Local News

Astronaut shares experiences with local students

SEBRING - It’s a subject that may make adults cringe. But astronaut Joseph M. Acaba says kids ask him all the time about going to the restroom when he’s in outer space. And that was the case when Acaba spoke to middle and high school students Thursday at Sebring High School. Many of the children couldn’t resist laughing as Acaba told them about the system that essentially created gravity for solid human waste when astronauts defecated in the space station. “You don’t want a floater floating around the space station,” Acaba said to an undoubtedly agreeable audience.
What he said about urine may have surprised the audience even more. He said the urine ends up in vials, but that’s not the end of it. Astronauts at the space station drink “our pee,” he said. The urine is put through a filtration system and “when it comes out it is like the best sparkling water you’d ever have,” he added. Acaba said the reason for doing this is that transporting water is expensive. None of that, he said, has in any way dampened his enthusiasm to be a space explorer. While a high school teacher in Melbourne in 2003, he applied for a program encouraging teachers to become astronauts. NASA accepted him in 2004 and in 2009 he flew on the shuttle Discovery from March 15 to March 28. It was the 28th shuttle flight to the International Space Station. In 2012, he spent 123 days in space. He traveled from and returned to Kazakhstan in a flight to the space station that included astronauts from the Russian Federation, Japan and the Netherlands. Acaba said unequivocally that if given the chance to go on the first trip to Mars he would do it. But he added that technology must advance first, he said, adding that with today’s technology the flight, including time on Mars, would last 1 ½ years. They also must find ways to reduce an astronaut’s exposure to space radiation, he added. During his presentation, Acaba urged students to continue their educations and at least finish high school. Deciding on their careers and what would make them happy also is important, he said. Two students from Hill-Gustat Middle School indicated they will likely choose different careers from being an astronaut. Jessica Hamilton, 13, an eighth grader, said she liked a video Acaba played and enjoyed hearing about how astronauts live in space. “It’s a cool experience I think, but I don’t think I’d want to make a career out of it,” she said. A schoolmate, Siddharth Ananthan, 14, said Acaba seemed very knowledgeable and answered questions well, but at least at this point he’s not interested in becoming an astronaut. Nevertheless, he enjoyed hearing about Acaba’s experience as an astronaut. Acaba told the students that getting into space was not a major problem. That takes about 8 ½ minutes and the craft reaches speeds of five miles per second, he said. “It (the craft) shakes a little.” He said that during one of their trips they had a spider accompany them to see how it would react in space. The spider survived the experience and seemed to do well, he said. No showers exist in the craft, he said, adding that they tried having one during a previous flight, but the water sprayed in many directions. He said during his off-time when not working on the craft he could get on the Internet, although it was slow, and could make telephone calls to any location on Earth for free. But, no one could call him, he said.