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Space Cadets Kids Get A Lesson On Space Travel From Nasa Astronaut

Wed., Feb. 26, 1997

Astronaut John Grunsfeld revealed some of NASA’s secrets to Spokane elementary school students Tuesday.

Going to the bathroom in space isn’t as difficult as it sounds, said Grunsfeld, 38, who holds a doctorate in physics from the University of Chicago.

The toilet paper floats, but Velcro straps keep each astronaut’s personal commode from lifting off, he said.

“Kids always ask that question,” said Spokane business owner Joe Bruce, a NASA enthusiast who arranged for Grunsfeld to visit Moran Prairie, Hamblen, Adams and Lincoln Heights elementary schools.

Grunsfeld, who first spoke to Spokane kids two years ago as part of NASA’s outreach program, has spent a total of 28 days in space.

The Chicago native’s first mission in 1995 sent him orbiting Earth for 17 days. In January, his assignment kept him in space for 11 days.

He spent six of those days in the space shuttle Atlantis, and the rest inside Russian space station Mir, which looks more like a giant dragonfly than a floating mobile home for Russian and American space explorers.

Grunsfeld and fellow crew members delivered a giant gyroscope to the 11-year-old station. They also picked up astronaut John Blaha, who had spent four months aboard Mir.

During the mission, Grunsfeld and crew cavorted weightless and barefoot with Russian cosmonauts.

On Tuesday, when Grunsfeld told children at Moran Prairie Elementary that he rarely wears shoes in the space shuttle, a first-grader immediately asked, “Why?”

“Astronauts use their fingers to maneuver through the shuttle’s corridors,” he replied. “But I also like to use my toes to hold on to things.”

Grunsfeld brought slides and a videotape to the assembly. The video revealed that the Russian space station has enough music cassettes and CDs to start a radio station - or at least send some strange signals into space.

Grunsfeld said the Russians have a killer sound system in their quarters. “They have a stereo, like a huge car radio with the huge speakers,” he said.

On Mir, getting up in the morning - especially if you’re running late - is easier than on Earth, Grunsfeld told the kids.

When you and your wardrobe are floating, you can “jump into a pair of pants two legs at a time.”

These days, astronauts only have to wear their high-tech orange spacesuits during the 8-1/2-minute trip from Cape Canaveral into space, when the craft reaches a top speed of 17,500 mph.

Grunsfeld told students that if ever they find themselves on the moon, they needn’t worry about transportation.

Lunar rovers, left over from the Apollo landings, are still on the moon.

“And the keys are in the ignition,” the astronaut said. “You’ll need to charge the battery. But NASA officials want me to tell you, you need to be old enough to have a driver’s license.”

First-grader Robby Weigle was enthralled by Grunsfeld’s space stories.

“I didn’t know how fast his rocket moved,” the wide-eyed boy said.

Robby swung his arm until it touched the middle of his back. “He signed my T-shirt,” he said proudly.

Grunsfeld will visit Adams and Lincoln Heights schools today before returning to the Kennedy Space Center. The parent-teacher group at Moran Prairie raised the money to bring the astronaut to Spokane.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color photos

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