Eighth-grade students at Horizon Middle School in the Central Valley School District received a phone call Friday from the International Space Station.
Parent Terry Fossum, a motivational speaker, Air Force officer, assistant Scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 400 and martial arts black belt, came to the school to talk about overcoming obstacles to become anything you want.
He told the students a story about his brother Mike, who was in the Air Force, working for NASA and wanted to be part of the astronaut program.
He trained for two years. He didn’t make it. He tried it again with two more years of training. He didn’t make it. He trained for more than 12 years and kept trying even though people around him told him it was time to give up.
Terry Fossum said his brother took his first mission on the Space Shuttle Discovery on July 4, 2006.
Today, Mike Fossum is the commander of the International Space Station and calls Terry about once a day from space. While waiting for the phone call Terry talked to the students about growing up in a Texas border town with heavy drug trade and gangs.
After telling the students about watching his brother take off in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft bound for the space station, he explained that things weren’t always so easy for them.
When Terry was in middle school, he was in his backyard when he heard a noise in the alley. When he decided to see what the noise was, a man walked out of the bushes with an assault rifle. When he was in high school, his father was killed. A few weeks before his father died, a neighbor told his father his children wouldn’t amount to anything.
But, he wanted the students to know, that wasn’t the way things worked out.
“It doesn’t matter where you come from,” he told them. “It matters where you are going to.”
Terry gave his phone to a student and told him to keep an eye on it. It was going to ring and the name on the caller ID would read, “Mike in space.”
When it rang, the student handed the phone to Terry.
Mike Fossum was on the line, telling the students about life in space.
“I’m living and working on the International Space Station,” he told the students.
Collin White, 13, had the opportunity to ask questions on behalf of his classmates.
He asked how the astronauts drank anything – didn’t the liquid float around with no gravity to keep it in the glass?
Mike explained they didn’t use glasses, they drink out of foil pouches.
“It will float around” if they didn’t, he told them.
White asked what time zone the astronauts used. Mike said they wake up and go to bed on Greenwich Mean Time, but the station orbits Earth once every 90 minutes.
“Do you float when you sleep?” White asked. The astronauts do, and they have a sleeping bag that is attached to the wall of the station to keep them in place.
One student asked how the astronauts kept up their muscle mass since they are confined in close quarters. Mike told them they all work out every day with aerobic exercises and weight lifting because muscle mass loss and bone loss is a concern.
“What happens when someone farts or their feet stink?” one student asked.
“We cannot open the window,” Mike told them. He said they have equipment that scrubs the air that sweeps all of the bad smells out.
When the students were done asking their questions, Mike gave them some words of advice.
“To go where you want to go, do something every day to move in that direction,” he told them. He said that every time he was knocked down, he picked himself up and tried it again.
“You can do it,” he told them.
For White, talking to someone in space was not something he had done before and he was impressed that he got the chance.
“It was pretty swell,” he said.