What does zero gravity do to the human body? How much debris is floating in outer space? What does it smell like out there?
The pressing questions of students from Vancouver iTech Preparatory School and Camas’ Odyssey Middle School were answered in a remote forum Thursday with Dr. Michael Barratt, a NASA astronaut and native of Camas.
(Answers: zero gravity atrophies your muscles; there’s too much debris; and there’s no odor in the vacuum of space, but the International Space Station smells sort of gun-powder-y).
Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, also patched in virtually along with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. The question-and-answer session — moved online, along with most formal education in Clark County during COVID-19 — focused on NASA’s Artemis program as well as getting kids interested in science, technology, engineering and math (also known as the STEM fields).
“No, STEM is not just for scientists and engineers. It’s for everybody,” Barratt told the listening students.
“It’s not just for wealthy people, or for really brainy people,” he added. “Hard work is so much more important than genius any day.”
Barratt graduated from Camas High School in 1977 and received his medical degree from Northwestern University. He joined NASA in 1991 and has since spent 211 days in space and embarked on two spacewalks.
“Dr. Barratt’s the real deal. He’s a NASA astronaut, and his hometown is right here in our neck of the woods,” said Herrera Beutler, who participated in the online discussion along with her 7-year-old daughter, Abigail.
“STEM industries are rapidly growing in the region,” the congresswoman said, adding that about 40 percent of new economic growth in Southwest Washington is linked to STEM fields. “We have a growing Silicon Forest because of the growth in our tech industry.”
NASA’s Artemis program aims to put the first woman on the moon by 2024. It’s named for the twin sister of Apollo in Greek mythology — the organization’s Apollo missions famously landed the first humans on the moon from 1969-1972.
Bridenstine told the students that the next big steps in space travel include getting an astronaut to Mars, and, eventually, setting up a long-term livable base on the moon similar to the International Space Station, which has been in a low orbit around the Earth for more than two decades.
“I want all the young people out there to know this — this time when we go out to the moon to stay, we’re going with all of America,” Bridenstine said.
Thursday’s event was the latest virtual public appearance for Herrera Beutler, who’s campaigning for a sixth term representing Washington’s 3rd Congressional District. Her challenger, Democrat Carolyn Long, has been conducting a tour of drive-in town halls around the district as a way to connect with voters ahead of Nov. 3 while remaining socially distanced.