‘Great Wi-Fi in space.’ Kansas astronaut tells what it’s like to live in microgravity

The Cosmosphere made one heck of a long-distance call Friday morning.

For about 30 minutes, NASA astronaut Nick Hague — a Hoxie, Kan., native currently aboard the International Space Station — took questions from Kansas schoolchildren about his life in space.

The call, made over a Skype-like service, was broadcast live on NASA TV.

Children from elementary schools in Hoxie and Peabody — where Hague attended — were given first crack at stumping the astronaut.

Hague successfully landed aboard the International Space Station in February after a failed launch last October that drew international attention.

During his six-month stay on the station, he’s completing various scientific experiments and research to benefit those of us on the ground.

Former Kansas astronaut Steven Hawley — who was in orbit in the ‘80s and ‘90s — was in the Cosmosphere audience Friday, as were Hague’s parents, Don and Beverly, who now live in Sandpoint, Idaho.

Hawley said it’s important for Kansas elementary students “to see somebody like Nick on the Space Station and know that he came from a background that’s not unlike them.”

“That doesn’t mean they all have to become astronauts, but it does mean that no matter where you come from, you have the opportunity to achieve something special,” Hawley said. “To see somebody from Hoxie who was able to do that is very important, I think.”

Hague had flowers delivered to his mother at the Cosmosphere as an early Mother’s Day present.

“I know it’s a couple days early, but I have to say happy Mother’s Day — thank you for everything you’ve done to support me through the years,” he told her during the call. “It’s the reason that I’m here.”

Here are some of the more interesting questions asked of Hague on Friday, with his responses:

Q. How do you talk to your family on Earth? What are some ways you stay connected?

A. Staying connected with the family is really important, so the team on the ground helps us do that. Every week on the weekend I get to have a video conference, kind of similar to what we’re doing, with my wife and our two sons, so that we get to see each other, like Skype or FaceTime. Then I also have email and I can make a phone call. We’ve actually got a lot of connectivity, so that I know exactly what’s going on. Like today in Houston there’s lots of rain and flooding and school’s been canceled.

Q. How has your perspective changed now that you are looking down on the Earth?

A. I’m up high enough that during daytime when I’m looking down on the ground in the sun’s light it’s very difficult to see cities. I can fly over the Great Plains and coming over the Rockies I have to look really hard in order to try to find Denver. It’s very easy to go from Denver all the way to the Gulf down to Houston — it only takes us about three minutes. We fly over that and all I see are fields. This high up you start to realize how small each one is but also how we are all connected. It just makes the Earth seem so much more special, how we’re all part of the Earth. Then you look out into deep space and you see we’re still just a little point in the bucket. You start to realize space is really big. So we’ve got this wonderful little island that we live on in this really vast, dark ocean of space.

Q. Since you’re in orbit, where the satellites provide cellular service, do you have good Wi-Fi in space?

A. I actually have great Wi-Fi in space, though inside the station we have wireless networks and those networks connect to relay satellites. There’s a constellation of relay satellites around the globe and they beam down our signal. Those satellites right now are what make it possible for me talk to you while you’re in Hutchinson and I’m circling the Earth at 17,000 mph. In the time that we do this conference, I’ll go almost entirely around the globe.

Q. How does being an astronaut affect your health and life insurance?

A. That’s a wonderful question. So, being an astronaut does affect your ability to find someone willing to insure you, and after having a launch abort in October, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be difficult for me to find anybody willing to take a life insurance policy out on me.

Matt Riedl covers arts and entertainment news for the Wichita Eagle and has done so since 2015. He maintains the Keeper of the Plans blog on Facebook, dedicated to keeping Wichitans abreast of all things fun.