Spaceflight Insider

Kjell Lindgren talks with students of his high school alma mater

Kjell Lindgren working on a spacesuit

Kjell Lindgren performs routine maintenance on an Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) inside the Quest airlock. Photo Credit: NASA

Astronaut Kjell Lindgren answered questions from students of Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax, Virginia during an in-flight event held on October 5, 2015. The Q&A is one of many that the U.S. space agency conducts every year to generate interest in space exploration with young people.

Lindgren, who graduated in 1991 from Robinson, spoke to hundreds of students via video about topics ranging from science, engineering as well as personal questions about what it is like to live and work in space.

“Our whole auditorium is filled,” said Bryan Hazard, Robinson Secondary School’s health and physical education teacher. “Every TV at Robinson is linked onto you right now to see this Robinson Ram who’s up in space.”

Hazard graduated with Robinson and is a long time friend and wrestling teammate. He began by asking Lindgren how being a Fairfax County Public School student trained and influenced him to do what he is doing now.

“Fairfax County Public Schools and Robinson specifically, I think, provided me with a terrific foundation to be able to go onto further education to really pursue my goals and to achieve this dream of flying in space.”

About a dozen students from the school were chosen to ask questions to the Expedition 45 flight engineer. The first student, an eighth-grader, asked if any teacher at Robinson inspired Lindgren to become an astronaut.

“My dream to become an astronaut preceded even my time at Robinson,” Lindgren said. “But, I can tell you the teachers, the faculty at Robinson, my classmates were all incredibly supportive and encouraging.”

Lindgren said that the academics, extracurricular activities and sports he was involved in all provided some aspect in training and hardening his character and furthered his desire to pursue his goals.

A high school senior asked what kind of exercise equipment astronauts used to stay physically fit while in space. Lindgren said they had a treadmill, cycle ergometer and the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED).

“Exercise is not only important for folks on Earth to stay healthy,” Lindgren said, “it’s incredibly important for us up here. It’s how we maintain bone density and strength, muscular strength and cardiovascular fitness so that when we return to the Earth, we’re in good shape.”

One student asked about power sources on ISS. Lindgren said the huge solar arrays power the station which serves not only as an international laboratory for research, but will help extend humanity’s reach beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

Lindgren and Kelly eat space grown lettuce

Kjell Lindgren and Scott Kelly take their first bite of space grown food on Aug. 10, 2015. The Vegetable Production System is a deployable plant-growth unit capable of producing salad-type crops that have a high nutritional value.

Hazard used that opportunity to ask about the scientific research ongoing to advance understanding of the human body.

“That’s part of why Scott Kelly is spending a year up here,” Lindgren said, referring to his crew mate who has been on the station since March 2015 and will stay until March 2016. “His twin brother is on Earth and is serving as a control”

Lindgren said Scott’s twin brother, Mark, a retired astronaut, is giving scientists an opportunity to do research and experiments to look at changes that occur in the human body over the course of a long time in space.

Lindgren said in the absence of gravity astronauts incur rapid bone loss, changes to the cardiovascular system, to the vestibular system and to the anatomy of the eye.

“These are all conditions that mimic conditions that we see here on Earth, like osteoporosis, bone weakening, or aging, accelerated aging or changes in immune function,” Lindgren said. “By studying the effects of microgravity in spaceflight here up on the space station, they can shed light not only on preserving our health, but improving the health of others on the Earth.”

Another question involved surprises in space. Lindgren said he found he was clumsier than he expected when first adjusting to weightlessness. He also said eating can be a really big mess if astronauts aren’t careful. As he said that, he opened a bag of trail mix and few pieces happened to fly away from him.

“I wish we had a way to send you a bib, Kjell, you could use one,” said Randahl Lindgren, Kjell’s father. Kjell’s parents were also in the auditorium full of students to watch the question and answer session.

“Recently you ate some lettuce that was grown in space,” Hazard said. “How did it taste?”

Lindgren and Kelly had been part of an experiment over the summer that was designed to understand and test in-space growing techniques for crops. The astronauts harvested the plants from the Veggie Production System (Veggie) and stored some in a freezer to wait for a return trip to Earth for scientists to study it. But the rest, the crew was able to eat.

“That lettuce actually tasted great,” Lindgren said. “We had a lot of fun harvesting it and eating it. I’m looking forward to figuring out how to grow pizza up here.”

At the end of the conference, Lindgren gave the students of Robinson Secondary School advice about about aspirations that included goal setting, finding fields that match personal passions and, for those interested in becoming an astronaut, studying science, technology, engineering and math.

“That’s the language of spaceflight and you need to be fluent,” Lindgren said.

Video courtesy of NASA


Derek Richardson is a student studying mass media with an emphasis in contemporary journalism at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. He is currently the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also writes a blog, called Orbital Velocity, about the space station. His passion for space ignited when he watched space shuttle Discovery leap to space on Oct. 29, 1998. He saw his first in-person launch on July 8, 2011 when the space shuttle launched for the final time. Today, this fervor has accelerated toward orbit and shows no signs of slowing down. After dabbling in math and engineering courses in college, he soon realized that his true calling was communicating to others about space exploration and spreading that passion.

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