I looked out at the students sitting in front of me, ready to continue the discussion and anxiously awaiting their responses to the question I had just posed.
Instead, I was the recipient of blank stares. I could practically hear the crickets in the background.
This scenario probably doesn’t sound all that unusual to other college professors out there, as 18-21 year olds are not always picture-perfect examples of the term “interactive”. But at that moment I really didn’t expect it, because my question was not a typical one for an Anatomy and Physiology class. Instead of asking about the human body, I had just asked my students what they knew about the work being done at the International Space Station. And the echoing silence was a result of one teenie weenie problem…
My students didn’t seem to know that the space station existed.
Oh, lordie me. I remember when they spent forty minutes devoted entirely to a post on their facebook feed; a picture of a dress that some in class saw as blue, some as gold. They were obsessed. That was “science”. Real science news? Sometimes they seem so far out of the loop.
I feel for you, NASA. It’s too damn hard to compete for a college student’s attention, especially with all of those dancing Chihuahuas on snapchat.
But on that day, I had an especially difficult time relating to their lack of understanding, because the International Space Station is a part of my every day life.
Why, you ask? Do I secretly plan to apply to the astronaut training program? Do I work for NASA in my spare time?
Nope. All of the above more accurately describes my husband; a man undeniably, unabashedly, unwaveringly obsessed with the International Space Station.
The “ISS” is a near constant topic in my house. I realized the other day that I know all of the astronauts by name. I also seem to be absorbing more knowledge of the Soyuz space capsule design that I would have ever imagined. I possess up to the moment information about the International Space Station’s visibility in the night sky. This is because my husband has to clear our schedule to get the telescope out on those evenings. If you sneak into my house unannounced, you might find him whistling the melody to David Bowie’s “Starman”… it is his favorite song. Also, curiously, he has informed me how amazing one particular female astronaut is more times than I can count – and while I admire my husband’s feminist side, I also fear that he might be thinking about getting himself a space girlfriend.
Even so, I try to be supportive. I am a science buff; how could I not be, I teach science. But I need to confess that, while space exploration fascinates me, it is not really #1 on my interest list. Instead, stories about animals, nature, or the softer side of human beings tend to pull me in.
And this is where I need to give my husband real credit, because he found a unique way to make the ISS truly relatable to me.
He told me that astronauts going to the ISS bring stuffed animals with them, and on the last trip up, there was a pink owl that hung above their heads. That owl had a purpose; the little stuffed creature was there to indicate to the astronauts (who were tightly strapped in for the flight) the moment when they had become weightless.
If the round fuzzy animal floated above them, the astronauts knew they were at the right “owlitude” (their words, not mine).
That owl is now on the ISS. And here’s what makes the story really relatable to me. Their pink buddy is not the only stuffed animal on the ISS. The astronauts have quite a few. And, according to my husband, this is because they won’t dispose of them. They cannot bring themselves to throw them away with the “space trash”, as destruction of their furry stuffed friends is unthinkable.
BOOM. Got me. A perfect story to grab my bleeding little heart. I am right there with you, space station inhabitants. I have the same exact problem. I can’t even throw out my dog’s stuffed chew toys, for goodness sake (in all fairness, one is a giant-eyed purple stuffed octopus, it’s cutest thing I have ever seen).
When I found myself explaining to my students that there were actually people in outer space, I figured I would steal some of my husband’s techniques. We talked about that owl. We also talked about rockets, space experiments, and a mission to Mars. They were wide-eyed and fascinated.
Thanks, husband, for helping me get the next generation of space enthusiasts geared up. They are inspired by you.
As am I.
p.s. My husband, aka “GM”, has a hobby that has caught NASA’s attention. He is talented, and the photos he works with are pretty amazing (he took the moon shot for this post). He took the moon shot and space station shots included in this post. He also works with images from the ISS. You can see more here.