FROSTBURG — NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold, speaking Monday from the International Space Station to more than 1,000 students packed inside Frostburg State University’s Pealer Recital Hall, said no dream is “too absurd” to chase.
“Whatever you want to do in life, you owe it to yourself to try,” Arnold, a 1985 Frostburg State graduate, said.
“When I saw that NASA had opened up its applications again, I did apply, and I ended up interviewing,” he said, “and here I am talking to you from the International Space Station, so no dream is really too absurd. If you let someone tell you you can’t do something, try your hardest to prove them wrong and see what happens.”
Arnold is one of three astronauts flown to the space station by Soyuz MS-08, a Russian-built rocket that launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on March 21.
Both Arnold and astronaut Drew Feustel tuned in from low-orbit Earth at 9:55 a.m. to answer 25 questions from students and educators. Those questions ranged from “What kind of food do you eat?” to “What made you want to be an astronaut?”
Sarah Roderick, an early childhood education major at FSU, asked Feustel what astronauts do for entertainment while on the space station.
“We float around,” Feustel said, “occasionally we bring out a guitar and play some music. We generally just like to have fun at low gravity.”
The event, which consisted of about 1,200 middle school students from Allegany and Garrett counties in Maryland, Frankfort Middle School in West Virginia, and three local private schools, took place on FSU’s 120th anniversary.
University President Ronald Nowaczyk spoke of area coal miners who founded the school and what they may have thought of a university alum in space.
“If you would have told a coal miner in 1898 that one of the alums of that school that you’re founding is going to be in space talking to 1,200 middle school kids ... they would have thought you were crazy,” he said. “So think about where we will be 120 years from now.”
The day didn’t end with the downlink. Students participated in dozens of science-based activities facilitated by FSU’s College of Education, including astronaut-style training.
Issac Holliday, a sixth-grader at Bishop Walsh Middle School, built a Ricky Rocket.
“I’m learning teamwork and how to make things explode,” he said.
Holliday placed an Alka-Seltzer tablet in a canister of water. The chemicals react, building pressure and allowing the canister to launch.
“They’re learning a simple chemical reaction,” Carrie Durell, an early childhood education major at FSU said about the exercise. “The gas is released and the rocket then launches after the pressure builds to a certain point.”
Frankfort Middle School seventh-grader Damien Ott watched as FSU professor John Wright simulated NASA’s neutral buoyancy library in the university’s pool.
“I think this is amazing and I loved it,” he said. “I think it’s cool how they mix water with outer space, I did not know that you had to take water classes to be an astronaut.”
Follow staff writer Heather Wolford on Twitter @heatherbwolford.