Darrell Warren practicing how to loudly and clearly speak into a radioSparking the Imagination: Students reflect on conversation with ISS Commander Luca Parmitano

Originally Published January 13, 2020

There’s nothing more uplifting than the spark of wonder and delight in the eyes of a young child. I saw it in the eyes and faces of students from Vermont Elementary after they had talked to Italian Astronaut Luca Parmitano as he flew over their school at slightly more than 17,000 miles per hour! I saw the same look in their parents’ faces, too, mixed with pride in the fact that their child had just participated in this monumental feat.

I am a volunteer for ARISS, an international program that coordinates radio contacts between schools and the International Space Station. A few weeks ago, invited by the USC Young Scientists, I was privileged to observe enthusiastic, bright young students speaking to space! The program organizers later shared with me a collection of written student reflections, and they quite touched my heart. The impact of the experience is profoundly apparent in the words of these lively students.

Young children are often quick to see goodness in the world, and they honed in on the astronaut’s character. One said, The one who talked to us was Luca Parmitano. He is a good man. Parmitano offered kind, friendly answers, giving the children a sense of care and importance to each of their questions. Another student added, Luca was a kind person, too.” One student had asked the astronaut who he would thank for helping him to accomplish his dream of going into space.  At the end of his detailed response, Luca added, “I really thank everybody, including you for your questions.” Talking to space could have been stressful, but, at the conclusion of the contact, it seemed that they had all talked together like friends.

The students’ words capture the sense of inspiration that filled the room that day. One student simply exclaimed, My Goodness!”  Others commented, “Unbelievable!” and “Awesome!” And yet another proclaimed, When I grow up, I would like to go to space.” A resonant buzz was felt, and the students’ enthusiasm was contagious to all present in the auditorium.

Their written reflections demonstrated a deep level of thought and vision. This is what I would like to see in the future, why I am very proud of it. I am also inspired.” Pride and inspiration ruled the day. The limitations of what is seemed to be overpowered by visions of what could be. Imaginations had been sparked. Students and parents both beamed at what had just happened!

My hat is off to the USC Young Scientists and the great staff of Vermont Elementary School. The value of inspiring the young minds and sparking the imagination of students is truly priceless. How can you measure its worth? What is the value of a deeper vision of science today, and a greater appreciation of education? Educators correctly stress the importance of interactive, authentic teaching methods, but students talking to an astronaut flying in space certainly hits the ball over the fence! The organization of the event was a true community effort, including a team of amateur radio operators, community members, and Liam Kennedy, the inventor of the ISS Above tracking program. And this vital team most certainly includes Astronaut Luca Parmitano and the great students of Vermont Elementary. I’m sure all will agree that it was well worth the effort!