Chit Chat: St. Charles boy gets out-of-this-world experience

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For 12-year-old Gabe Valenzano of St. Charles, June 30 wasn't any ordinary summer day.

It was the day that – through the wonders of technology – he got to participate in a question-and-answer session with an astronaut who was at the International Space Station.

The Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin offered the opportunity for kids to live video chat with astronaut Jeff Williams.

The event also featured a video conference with Elgin native Hal Getzelman, the lead capsule communicator for the International Space Station. He was at NASA in Houston, according to the library.

Gabe’s mother, Lisette Valenzano, described the event as “absolutely amazing” because the participants knew the astronaut was speaking to them.

Due to time constraints, Gabe wasn’t able to ask Williams a question but did get to speak to Getzelman, his mother said.

“It was such a great experience, and we were really lucky to be offered the ability to experience that, him specifically,” she said.

Gabe, who is an incoming seventh-grader at Einstein Academy in Elgin, took time to describe his experience with reporter Ashley Sloboda. What follows is an edited version of their conversation.

Ashley Sloboda: What did you want to ask the astronaut?

Gabe Valenzano: What I did ask [Getzelman] was will NASA ever figure out how to stop an asteroid from hitting Earth. What I wanted to ask was what does it feel like when you hit zero gravity.

Sloboda: What was the answer for the question you did ask?

Valenzano: He said it might be possible, probably not because they have to figure out all the calculations. They would have to figure out where to put something that would stop it and what would stop it.

Sloboda: What was it like to be in the room with people speaking directly with an astronaut at the International Space Station?

Valenzano: It was kind of cool, knowing there was a real-live astronaut right there. Listening to other people talking, asking him questions, is [was] just kind of amazing.

Sloboda: What was the video quality like? Did it seem like you were talking with someone in space, or was it like you were talking with someone in town?

Valenzano: You can tell he was out in space. You can tell that he's floating. How it sounds – it doesn't sound normal, and the delay.

Sloboda: What was the delay like?

Valenzano: When somebody asked a question, it would take two or three seconds before the person in space got it.

Sloboda: Can you describe how he sounded?

Valenzano: Kind of a bit staticky. There were some cutoffs.

Sloboda: Could you see things on the video clearly?

Valenzano: Yes, it was very easy to see.

Sloboda: Was he wearing an astronaut suit?

Valenzano: No, just a gray shirt and pants.

Sloboda: What did you like best about the experience?

Valenzano: Seeing an actual astronaut in space and being able to believe it and being able to tell all my friends. You can just tell he was in space because of zero gravity.

Sloboda: Was he moving?

Valenzano: Yeah, you could also tell because one of the questions was do you still play with your food in space. He actually took some food off the rack, and it'd just float. He'd spin it around and stuff.

Sloboda: Would you ever want to go to space, if given the chance?

Valenzano: Yes, I would definitely want to go.

Sloboda: Is there anything else you want to say about the chat?

Valenzano: It's kind of hard to explain what it feels like. It's just like you're there and it feels like it's over in an instant, 'cause it's just amazing that you're seeing this person who's just completely miles and miles away.