Yesterday was more than just a routine school day for students at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST) in Fairfax County, Va.: With the aid of a live satellite downlink, TJHSST students got a chance to interview two crew members from International Space Station Expedition 12 as they orbited Earth.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings participated in the event, along with National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Deputy Administrator Shana Dale, who was on her second day of the job.

Building strong international partnerships is important, as well as engaging children in math and science, Dale said. Dale and Spellings commended the students at TJHSST for beginning their exploration of the technology field.

“When I see kids like you, I’m confident that we are going to remain competitive as a country,” Spellings told the audience of students and teachers gathered in the auditorium. Established in 1985, TJHSST offers a college preparatory program emphasizing science, mathematics, and technology. The school serves nearly 1,800 students.

“Young people take us to the next level in math and science innovation,” Spellings said, and added that progress in science and technology depends on a sound education.

“Eighty percent of the fastest growing jobs in the U.S. will require a postsecondary education, and our futures depend on strong backgrounds in math, science, and technology,” she said.

Students at the Alexandria, Va.-based school asked Expedition 12 Commander Bill McArthur and Russian cosmonaut Valery Tokarev questions ranging from future sources of energy in space–McArthur said nuclear power holds much promise–to the greatest threats of living in space. McArthur said some of the most immediate space dangers include meteors and other objects that can strike the space station, being exposed to more radiation than usual, and handling large amounts of electricity.

Other questions included queries on the two astronauts’ backgrounds, education, microgravity experiments, and diet.

Several students asked Flight Engineer Tokarev questions in Russian. At one point, students laughed as an object resembling a Sharpie pen floated in front of the camera trained on the crew members.

“We really are all in this together, and the opportunity to push the frontier is tremendous,” McArthur said.

Their images broadcast on a large projection screen during the live event, the two crew members bobbed up and down as they answered questions. “It’s a heck of a lot of fun being up here today,” McArthur said at the end of the session.

TJHSST Principal Elizabeth Lodal thanked all participants and praised the school’s students for their persisting dedication to academics.

“We’re so excited to be part of this downlink,” Douglas Tyson, an assistant principal at the school, said before the event. “This is where you see math, science, and technology in action.”

TJHSST has 12 science labs focusing on different areas, such as oceanography, optics and modern physics, microelectronics, and robotics.

The live teleconference was broadcast on NASA-TV and on the Fairfax County Public Schools network to all TJHSST students, as well as students in 240 Northern Virginia schools and more than 250,000 home viewers. Interested school systems around the country were able to access the program via satellite.

The event took place in recognition of International Education Week, which runs Nov. 14-18 and is jointly sponsored by the U.S. Departments of Education and State. This year’s theme is “International Education: Improving Student Achievement Around the World.”

International Education Week seeks to prepare U.S. residents for a global environment and attract future leaders from abroad to study, learn, and exchange experiences in the United States.

“We are constantly reminded that we live in a borderless world in an age where information and news are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said Spellings in a statement about International Education Week. “The world is indeed interconnected, and what happens in any one country can be instantly transmitted worldwide.”

Spellings also said that International Education Week gives U.S. citizens a chance “to assess whether we are preparing our students for success in a global environment.”

“It is, therefore, very important to teach students about the world beyond their own countries,” Spellings continued. “We must teach our children international education skills, which include the learning of other languages, cultures, and traditions.”

Links:

International Education Week
http://www.iew.state.gov

Fairfax County Public Schools
http://www.fcps.edu/index.shtml

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
http://www.tjhsst.edu

National Aeronautics and Space Administration
http://www.nasa.gov/home

U.S. Department of Education
http://www.ed.gov