Some 250 miles above the Earth floats the International Space Station, but on May 6, the space station touched down, not physically, but digitally to Boise State University, where a group of students, educators and select guests eagerly awaited a close encounter.
Set up in Boise State’s Student Union Building, the Space Symposium created a live-link connection with two ISS astronauts, Steve Swanson and Rick Mastracchio.
A group of students known as the Space Broncos have been planning this event since late January 2014. Students in the Space Broncos come from different colleges and disciplines across campus. John Garretson, who joined at the beginning of the 2013 fall semester, is a senior public relations and communication major who discovered the opportunity to join Space Broncos through an e-mail from his adviser.
“I had to take it right on the spot, it was too cool of an opportunity to pass up,” Garretson said.
Leigh Ann Dufurrena, digital and social media communications specialist, took the position of co-professor of record for the Space Broncos and headed the Space Symposium event.
“The culmination of all the projects we've been working on and all of the field trips and community outreach is this event,” Dufurrena said.
The idea originally came from NASA, which approached the Space Broncos about the downlink, since then the students have been working with Swanson on the project. Swanson received the title of Professor of Practice in February 2014.
“It’s [Professor of Practice] a new program with community and business leaders to help in creative learning across all the colleges,” Dufurrena said.
The opportunity to have what is, more or less, a Skype session with the ISS hasn’t been offered to many other universities.
“There’s been a couple of other universities that have done these, but it’s a really rare opportunity for any university to get to have a downlink with the space station and especially a two-way downlink like we are doing today,” Dufurrena said.
Steve Bull, technical services manager at Boise State, hasn’t done anything quite as complicated as this before, but kept it in context.
“To all intents and purposes it’s a glorified phone call,” Bull said.
Mark Rudin, vice president for research and economic development, worked on getting Boise State connected with the ISS.
“We have a lot of research going on at Boise State in NASA-related areas and funded by NASA,” Rudin said. “The neatest thing is that our students benefit tremendously from this partnership, relationship, with NASA.”
The event included remarks from Boise State President Bob Kustra:
“This is quite a historic moment for Boise State. I really do think this takes our partnership with NASA to the highest level ever.”
The three-hour event included presentations from several Boise State professors, Swanson’s parents Stanley and June, and former astronaut Barbara Morgan. But of course, the highlight of the event was when the two astronauts appeared on screen, floating in mid-air.
“Boise State we have you loud and clear,” Swanson said, followed by an abundance of applause.
For many at the event, this was the opportunity of a lifetime.
“This is something I’ve never been a part of,” Garretson said. “Seeing live interaction with two individuals in an International Space Station is awesome, and that’s just an understatement.”