Sixteen high school students from across Nova Scotia were treated to a lesson in space travel yesterday — courtesy of four astronauts living the experience for real.


The students, their parents and several teachers gathered at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax for a 20-minute, live chat with Canadian scientist Bob Thirsk and three other astronauts currently aboard the International Space Station.


Thirsk smiled broadly as he floated in front of a massive Canadian flag tacked to the station’s wall. Alongside him were Frank De Winne from the European Space Agency, and American astronauts Jeffrey Williams and Nicole Scott.


After some quick introductions, the students stepped forward and asked questions they had been rehearsing for days.


“I felt like I was going to be sick,” said Amanda Fougere, a Grade 10 student at Yarmouth Memorial High School who asked Thirsk if he missed the beauty of nature. He told her he definitely did.

“I think it’s great that they do stuff like this,” Fougere said. “It’s so cool.”

The students ranged in age from 15 to 17, and were picked from a pool of more than 100 entries from across the province. Their questions covered everything from how to boil water in space (you can’t) to whether or not it’s possible to catch a cold or get an electric shock in orbit (yes on both counts).

At one point, Thirsk even took the crowd through his upcoming dinner.

“My very favorite, smoked salmon!” he exclaimed, pulling out a vacuum-sealed pouch as an orange floated by his head.

“We had so many good questions,” said Marilyn Steinberg, the head of education for the Canadian Space Agency. “I was looking for strong science and technology-related questions that would really inspire our astronauts to teach.”