Share this story...
astronaut teacher
Latest News

Live Mic: Astronaut-teacher talks about lessons from space

In this photo taken with a long exposure, a Soyuz rocket carrying a new crew to the International Space Station blasts off from the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Monday, Dec. 3, 2018. The Russian rocket carries U.S. astronaut Anne McClain, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenkoā€ˇ and CSA astronaut David Saint Jacques. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

SALT LAKE CITY — With schools shut down, who knows more about distance teaching than a teacher-turned-astronaut?

Ricky Arnold, a middle-school teacher and a NASA astronaut, joined Lee Lonsberry on Live Mic to talk about two things he knows much about: very remote learning and extreme social distancing.

Astronaut-Teacher shares his experience

“Do you have any advice for students who are faced with these dramatically different circumstances from which they’ll be learning for the rest of the school year?” Lee asked.

“It’s a tough time for teachers and for learners and facility and staff trying to invent education on the fly, this distance learning,” Arnold said. “We’re all in this together. This is happening globally, and it’s really easy to think that it’s just happening you.

“Reach out to your teachers,” he said. “They’re working really hard to make this the best experience it can be.

“Stick to a schedule the best you can. Everything that life brings you is an opportunity to learn. This is something that they’ll be talking about for the rest of their lives. What can they learn from this would be a good thing to be thinking about,” Arnold said.

Lessons from space

“What lessons can share about teaching from space — the epitome of distance learning? And from your experience in space, what can you teach us Earthlings about isolation?” Lee asked.

“What bothered me and some of the other educators [astronaut Joe Acaba also a middle-school teacher aboard ISS] was not completing the initial mission of the Challenger crew,” Arnold said.

Christa McAuliffe was scheduled to become the first teacher in space when the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up just after launch, killing the seven crew members on Jan. 28, 1986.

Arnold said he and Acaba flew on back-to-back missions teaching almost an entire year from space. He said they wanted to focus on at least finishing the spirit of the Challenger mission, which was focused on education.

Arnold said the lesson plans were developed on Earth, but didn’t go as expected once in orbit.

“There was a lot of learning for me on how to do simple tasks in a classroom but do them while traveling 17,500 mph in low Earth orbit,” he said.

Arnold said one of the skills you need while working in any extreme environment is flexibility.

“During this time, we all have to take a moment and see what changes we can make and adapt to a situation that none of us are really prepared for,” Arnold advised.

Staying in touch while distant

NASA has much experience with people being in isolation in unique environments, he said, so he it’s critical to keep connected — even while doing it remotely.

While aboard the International Space Station (ISS), Arnold said he was able to reach out regularly to family and friends.

“I also spent some time in space reaching out to people I haven’t spoken to in a long time, just to reestablish old connections,” he said.

“Sometimes they wouldn’t answer the phone because they didn’t recognize the phone number. So I would leave them a message, saying ‘I’m calling from the Space Station. You don’t owe me any money, I’m just calling to say hi,'” Arnold said.

“That would be the most amazing voicemail to catch, and then you’d kick yourself, ‘I didn’t answer the phone. I could’ve talked to a space man,'” Lee said.

Arnold said he actually called the front desk of the high school, middle school and elementary school he attended. He said the high school hung up twice before he was able to get a person to answer.

“I said, ‘Please don’t hang up. I’m really calling from the Space Station. Go to Google and look me up. I actually went to high school there.'”

He called to thank the schools and tell them about the huge part they played in getting him where he is today and for them to think about the possibilities for the students who are with them today.

Live Mic with Lee Lonsberry can be heard weekdays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app.