First Posted: 1/15/2009
RED SPRINGS - Talk about a long-distance call.
Seven-year-old Megan Locklear might get a strange stare when she tells the story of talking to a man in outer space, but on the other end of the line was Lt. Col. Bill McArthur - not E.T.
Locklear, a first-grader, and 10 other students spoke with astronaut McArthur, a Wakulla native and Red Springs High graduate, on Monday. McArthur was about 220 miles above the Earth on the International Space Station. The rest of the student body listened to the exchange in the school gym.
McArthur, who has been orbiting the Earth since October, spent 10 minutes talking the students and answering questions.
“How fast do you travel in space?” Locklear asked.
“We travel 17,500 mph,” McArthur said, his voice just as clear as if he were in Lumberton.
Students were curious about how McArthur uses the bathroom. He explained that he uses a vacuum-like device.
“That's a good question. Even though we are in space we have to do all the things that normal people do,” he said.
Fourth-grader Thalia Villasana asked McArthur to describe a shuttle take-off.
“You are facing upward,” he said. “You feel a really big rush. Everything is shaking. There is a lot of noise. It's very, very fast, then you start feeling heavier, heavier and heavier. Soon you are three times your normal weight.”
Brian Freeman, a second-grade teacher, said Monday's conference call correlates with the current lesson about the solar system. Freeman said the school was selected for the call in October, the same time McArthur lifted off in Russia on his six-month mission.
McArthur and Russian Cosmonaut Valery Tokarev are performing space walks to install equipment and make repairs to the space station and to conduct experiments.
“We've been up here 100 days and we've only been outside twice,” McArthur said.
McArthur said he eats pre-cooked foods that are either warmed or need to be hydrated with water.
“The food is delicious,” he said. “My favorite is a Russian dish - lamb meat with vegetables. We don't have hamburgers unfortunately.”
He said he is still adjusting to weightlessness, while spending his free time snapping pictures through a shuttle window.
“We can see cities, mountains, oceans, lakes and rivers. At night we can see lights at the tops of clouds, lights in cities and the moon reflecting off bodies of water. It's very beautiful.”
McArthur has been an astronaut since 1987. This is his fourth and final mission. He is scheduled to return to Earth in April.