Mountain View ES Gets Spaced Out in Connection with ISS Astronaut

ARISS group

It's not every day that elementary students get to ask questions to a real-life astronaut, especially when that astronaut is 250 miles above the surface of Earth. Nearly one dozen Mountain View Elementary students got this rare privilege in the culmination of a year-long process and persistence from the school and their STEM teacher, Dr. Cassondra Zielinski. 

"This was a first for the Cobb County School District and a very rare event," said Dr. Z with a smile. "We were one of eleven schools chosen in the entire United States. This was a direct contact, which means we connected with the ISS with onsite radio equipment rather than a telebridge to bounce through."

The International Space Station is orbiting high above and traveling more than 17,000 miles an hour. Connecting with the ISS takes a lot of planning and coordination. It lasts for a mere ten minutes as the space station rushes across North America in range of the amateur radio equipment and antenna that was temporarily set up at the school.


The exciting event is known as ARISS, or Amateur Radio on the International Space Station. The goals of the ARISS program include providing an educational opportunity for students, teachers, and the general public to learn about space exploration, space technologies, and satellite communications, as well as giving the ISS crew a way to directly interact with those on the ground. ARISS conducts 60-100 of these special amateur radio contacts each year between students around the globe and crew members with ham radio licenses aboard the ISS.

Mountain View students have been involved in many cross-curricular projects and activities that include achieving World Space Week Champions after designing a self-sustaining space settlement, designing several mission patches, working with bluShift Aerospace on a hot/cold engine test, and working with MaxIQ Space on a Suborbital Launch Test in conjunction with the University of Kwa Zulu-Natal in South Africa. In preparation for the ARISS contact, students tracked the ISS during ARISS/SSTV broadcasts, decoding seven images. The school was supported by the Cherokee Amateur Radio Society, North Fulton Amateur Radio League, Cobb County Library System, bluShift Aerospace, and Cobb EMC.

NASA Astronaut Dr. Jeanette Epps was successfully contacted onboard the ISS around 1:48 PM and answered questions from selected Mountain View students until around 1:58 PM. While 20 students were on stage dressed in orange NASA shirts, only 11 were able to ask their questions before Astronaut Epps and the ISS zoomed out of radio range over South America.

Questions ranged from what it's like to live and work in space to technology aboard the ISS to what it will be like to return home to Earth. Thanks to the tireless work of the ground crew and radio operators at Mountain View, Dr. Epps' answers came through loud and clear for every student, staff, and special guest assembled in the school's gymnasium.


The ARISS event was the latest in Dr. Z's lessons about space and NASA. The school's "Launchapalooza" event is a favorite for Mountain View students, as well as launching satellites to help collect data about burning biofuel. 

"We've put a satellite into space on a rocket in South Africa, and now we have this [the ARISS event]. Our students have worked so hard, more than you could imagine. I've heard more times than once that they're too young and they can't handle it. I guarantee you they handled it," Dr. Z said proudly about her dedicated STEM students.

After the ten-minute connection with Dr. Epps and the ISS was over, the entire room cheered and applauded for the once-in-a-lifetime experience. Mountain View Principal Dr. Katie Derman thanked Dr. Z, the radio operators, and all the students for their hard work and a job well done. 

"You have done so well representing our school," said Dr. Derman as the room still buzzed with excitement. "When we first connected with Astronaut Epps, that moment was just amazing."


Dr. Derman also recognized PTA and Foundation leaders in the audience for their continued assistance and encouragement. "Our community has done so much to support our programs, including STEM, and we appreciate you all very much!"

Congratulations, and excellent job, Mountain View! All of your hard work and preparation paid off in a big way and gave everyone who attended an experience they will cherish forever. Thank you, Dr. Derman, Dr. Zielinski, and Dr. Epps, for making this unique opportunity an exceptional one for Mountain View and Cobb Schools!