Space quiz and levity at the White House

March 24, 2009

President Barack Obama treated astronauts on the International Space Station to a little levity of his own as they traveled at 17,500 mph, circling the planet once every 90 minutes. “Do you guys still drink Tang up there?” the president asked to laughter.

It took some effort, but the 10 astronauts in blue shirts, including some from Japan and Russia, bobbed but managed not to float off during  the presidential session by holding onto a rail with their toes.

The astronauts appeared on a screen in the White House Roosevelt Room, and Obama initially did not realize he had to use a telephone to speak to them.  “The handset sir,” a staffer instructed.

Obama and the astronauts talked about the mission on the space station, where the crew is adding solar panels, but the most fun came from the other questions. Obama asked the one female astronaut whether she had been tempted to cut her hair shorter.

“I think it’s a real fashion statement,” he said as her long dark brown hair floated around her head as if it were alive.

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A group of children who watched with Obama had their own questions:

“What do you eat?”

Astro-Answer: “It’s kind of like backpacking food.”

“Can you play video games in space?”

Astro-Answer: ”We can, in fact.”

“Have you found any life forms?”

Astro-Answer: “We unfortunately haven’t found anything here.”

“What things did you have to study?”

Astro-Answer: “There really is room up here for everybody,” noting that the current crew includes doctors, geologists and school teachers.

Commander Michael Fincke’s response to a boy who asked how many stars there were in space was illuminating.

“Aboard the International Space Station, we can look down and see our beautiful planet Earth, and we can also look up and see the rest of the cosmos. And we can see that there are so many stars out there that it’s very hard to count them all,” he said.

“So maybe we’ll someday be able to count how many stars that we have, because we’re starting to go to the stars as human beings together.”

Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing (Obama talks with astronauts on International Space Station)

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