Archive for Wednesday, November 12, 1997


November 12, 1997


— A NASA astronaut encouraged Eudora students Monday to study math and science.

Wearing his bright blue NASA jumpsuit, Michael Gernhardt smiled as he fielded a nitty-gritty query from a student.

"How do you go to the bathroom in space?" Gernhardt, 41, repeated. "The answer is: very carefully."

A veteran of three space shuttle missions and several space walks, Gernhardt spoke about life as an astronaut for about an hour Monday to students from the Eudora elementary and middle schools.

His Eudora visit was part of a tour of four schools in the Kansas City area Monday arranged by U.S. Rep. Vince Snowbarger, R-Kan. Snowbarger, whose 3rd Congressional District includes Eudora and Lawrence, said the tour was designed to get students more interested in science and math.

"Our future is in outer space. ... Maybe some of you will go to Mars," Gernhardt told the 450 students gathered in the gymnasium at the Eudora school.

At least one student is already interested. Zac Beedle, a seventh-grader, stayed after the presentation to talk to the astronaut.

"It's somewhat of a dream," Beedle said.

Gernhardt showed a 15-minute film of a 1995 shuttle flight, telling students about his experience in space and about his space walks.

"You feel like it's riding a wild bull. ...You really get rattled around a lot," he said, explaining the takeoff experience.

Gernhardt also told the students what it was like to eat, sleep and work in a zero-gravity environment.

"It's sort of magical. It's like Peter Pan," he said. "And then when you see the Earth, it takes your breath away."

On the bathroom question, he explained that a fan device helped to take astronauts' waste away. And he said NASA makes sure rookie astronauts know how to use the "potty" before they get in the weightless environment.

Asked whether he had ever set foot on the moon, Gernhardt said no, "but I would like to do that. We might go back to the moon on the way to Mars."

Gernhardt has been an astronaut for a little more than five years. He has flown on Columbia twice and on Endeavour once.

He is now training for an August 1999 flight on Endeavour to begin building a new international space station to replace the aging Russian Mir station.

He began studying the ocean and established strong credentials in deep-sea diving before being accepted by NASA as an astronaut.

Astronauts must have a bachelor's degree in science, math or engineering, he said. Most, he added, have master's degrees and doctorates.

"It's really important to stay in school and learn your math and science," he said.

-- Dave Toplikar's phone message number is 832-7151. His e-mail address is

Commenting has been disabled for this item.