It took two days for 14-year-old Rebecca Lohmann to figure out what she wanted to ask astronaut Chris Hadfield, commander of the International Space Station.

The Grade 9 student was one of a handful picked to ask Hadfield a question when he spoke via video connection to more than 500 students from Edmonton and area at the Telus World of Science on Tuesday. The event was put on by the Canadian Space Agency.

“Hello! This is Chris Hadfield from the International Space Station, and I read you loud and clear,” Hadfield said to the crowd as the connection went live.

Lohmann, a student at Bluffton School, found out last week she was one of the lucky ones, and decided to ask Hadfield what he missed most about being at home on Earth.

She said she didn’t know what to expect for an answer.

“I miss close human contact,” Hadfield told her. “It is a little bit isolated.

“And hot showers, I miss hot showers.”

Hadfield floated around while on screen, often letting go of his microphone in between questions to demonstrate the lack of gravity.

Queries about how a barf bag works, sleeping bag is used and keeping clean is done were asked, as were deeper questions, such as what Hadfield’s ultimate goal is that he hopes to achieve as commander of the ISS, asked by J.H. Picard Grade 9 student Cherry Chen.

“It’s to increase human understanding and human opportunity,” Hadfield responded. “Those two things.”

Many think he is already doing that.

Mathieu Landry, payload operations supervisor with the Canadian Space Agency, who introduced Hadfield and told students all about the ISS before the connection went live, said the astronaut has made space accessible through his social media posts – especially his photos on Twitter.

“It has raised a lot of awareness and inspiration and enthusiasm for space exploration,” he said.

That’s one of the reasons the Telus World of Science was overjoyed when the Canadian Space Agency approached them in early March with the idea for the event, which served as the agency’s first ever tweetup in western Canada.

“Of course we jumped at the chance,” said Frank Florian, VP of programs. “It’s really a once in a lifetime opportunity for these students… to talk to NASA on the ISS with one of our Canadian astronauts.

“It’s a big moment.”

And Hadfield did not disappoint.

In the 20 or so minutes he was connected live to Edmonton, he described some of the more than 100 experiments ongoing aboard the ISS, also noting the astronauts do have down time.

They must exercise for two hours each day in order to keep their muscles and bodies in proper working order – and they do have fun, as well.

Hadfield said some of the favourite ways to pass the time include playing games such as Scrabble, or making music on the guitar, ukelele and keyboard that are on board. But the view is a favourite activity at any time, he said.

“When you’ve got the world at your window, sometimes it’s hard to get to sleep at night.”

 By the numbers

  • Hadfield left Earth for the ISS on Dec. 19, 2012.
  • He became commander of the ISS – the first Canadian astronaut to do so – on March 13, 2013.
  • His mission will end on May 13, 2013  (weather pending).
  • The ISS, which has an entire surface space the size of five NHL hockey rinks, travels around the Earth 16 times per day, traveling at 28,000 kilometres per hour.

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