Astronaut in Great Falls

Astronaut in Great Falls

An out-of-this-world day at Village Green Day School.


Astronaut Paul Lockhart describes his experience on the International Space Station to students at the Village Green Day School last week during a visit.


Braden Swartout, a kindergartner at Village Green Day School at Lowe's Island. gets an autograph of Col. Paul Lockhart, a NASA astronaut.

The four- and five-year-olds at Village Green Day School had an out-of-this-world experience Friday morning when astronaut Paul Lockhart guided them through a DVD presentation of a mission on the shuttle Endeavor. The video chronicled one of Lockhart’s two flights on the Endeavor in 2002; he participated in STS-111 and STS-113, both of which were journeys to the International Space Station.

With models of the shuttle, Lockhart explained to the children how the solid rocket boosters and external fuel tank would be dropped after they were no longer needed. They counted down with the video, and shook in their places to simulate blasting off. As the shuttle reached space, Lockhart showed how the payload bay doors opened to cool off the craft, comparing it to opening the car windows.

The video showed the astronauts experiencing weightlessness, with packages around them suspended in midair. “There’s lunch floating right there,” Lockhart pointed out, and showed the crew eating peanuts floating in front of their mouths.

Lockhart, who lives in Fairfax Station with his family, told the Village Green students about preparing for a spacewalk to make adjustments to the space station’s robotic arm, and then showed a segment of the DVD where he was helping another astronaut suit up. One student piped up: “That looks like goalie gear,” he said. Lockhart agreed, with the comparison, saying that both had extra layers to protect the person wearing it. In several shots on the DVD, Lockhart helped the children distinguish some of Earth’s more remarkable geographical features, including Mount Everest and the Sahara.

When it was time for the group to return to Earth, Lockhart kept track of Endeavor’s speed and altitude, urging the students to “get your fingers ready” and practice pushing the button and release the landing gear at 300 feet from the ground.

To show their appreciation for being part of his mission team, the students sang a song about teamwork for Lockhart. He said the students had become honorary members of NASA.