Shoot for the stars

Students get a better idea of what space looks like after conversations with two NASA astronauts.

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Bryson Felton

Blake Hernke, Kristy Allen, and Robotics Coach Joe Coyle enjoyed chatting with Vande Hei.

As a child, almost everyone dreamed of becoming one thing: an astronaut. There is something magical about the idea of being launched into space, flying through the stars at 25,000 miles per hour, and watching the earth shrink away that appeals to the child in all of us. However, as kids grow older, this dream slowly fades away. Images of wearing that iconic white space suit are replaced by visions of becoming firefighters, doctors, and authors. Although not everyone grows up to become an astronaut, there are still ways to keep that dream alive. Even if it doesn’t involve climbing into a rocket.

Riley Buchheit is a science teacher at Cannon Falls High School, and though he isn’t an astronaut, he has always had an interest in astronauts and outer space. In order to fulfill this interest, he has found ways to link teaching with astronauts. In January, Buchheit set up a meeting with former NASA astronaut, Chris Hadfield. The meeting consisted of a Q&A with Hadfield, conducted by the CFHS robotics team. Those who were not directly participating in the meeting were able to watch the proceedings in the auditorium on a big screen. This was the first of two astronaut meetings initiated by Buchheit, the second being a meeting with another former NASA astronaut, Mark Vande Hei. Because of school cancellations due to COVID-19, students were not able to gather for the April 24 meeting with Vande Hei. Luckily, they could either log on to the meeting in Microsoft Groups, or watch the event unfold on YouTube Live. Vande Hei began the meeting with a presentation about his time spent in space, complete with photos of him and others on space walks. After the presentation was finished, CFHS robotics students once again participated in a Q&A with the retired astronaut, and audience members were able to ask questions through YouTube Live as well.

I hope it inspires students and opens their eyes to an avenue of life they can pursue. Astronauts do not get to space by themselves, it takes a variety of careers to go to space.”

— Riley Buchheit

Though to many, Buchheit’s meetings are just a fun way to learn about astronauts, he hopes that they grow to be something more, stating that “I hope it inspires students and opens their eyes to an avenue of life they can pursue. Astronauts do not get to space by themselves, it takes a variety of careers to go to space.” But, even if students don’t take away these lessons from the meetings, Buchheit still feels that the meetings can help them. “Now I can look back on those conversations and bring up those topics in my classroom to relate the material to the real world,” he explained.

Beyond helping students by showing them career options and expanding their horizons in the classroom, the astronaut meetings are helping those with a true interest in being an astronaut to get a taste of what the job is like. Freshman Lydia Pedersen says that becoming an astronaut has always been a dream of hers, and talking to real-life astronauts has made the prospect seem much more achievable than she had initially thought. “Watching real astronauts talk about their experiences and the path they took to get there makes my dream seem like a much more realistic possibility,” she revealed. “I’ve done plenty of reading and research into what it takes to become an astronaut. However, reading can only make an abstract idea “real” to a certain degree.” For those like Pedersen, Buchheit’s meetings take on a whole new level of meaning, and can even be essential to keeping students on the path that will make their dreams a reality.

Watching real astronauts talk about their experiences and the path they took to get there makes my dream seem like a much more realistic possibility.”

— Lydia Peterson

Overall, the astronaut meetings have taken on layers of meaning for students and staff throughout the school. For Pedersen, the meetings prove that her goal of becoming an astronaut is achievable. For Buchheit, they are a way to satisfy his interests as well as a way to teach students in and out of the classroom. Not to mention, he’s learned a few things himself, with two key takeaways from the meetings. “Work hard and always be curious. I’ve learned that it takes tremendous effort to achieve your goals, and the journey to accomplishing your goal is as much a reward as the achieving the goal itself.”