Shuttle lesson, toilets and all Astronaut gives students lowdown on space physics

November 26, 1996|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

The first question the eighth-graders had for the astronaut speaking to them was: How do you go to the bathroom in space?

Roger K. Crouch, a payload specialist and materials science physicist who spoke at two schools in Carroll County yesterday, managed to inject a few simple laws of physics into his answer to satisfy and educate the curious.

Crouch, 54, of Laurel will go on his first space shuttle mission March 27, when the Columbia is scheduled to make its next trip. Yesterday, more than 400 eighth-graders at Westminster West Middle School, including Crouch's niece, Kim Novotny, gathered to hear about the practical aspects of working in a space lab the size of a school bus.

Remember, Crouch told them, there is no gravity in space, and you can't even spit out toothpaste without a tissue to catch it.

Crouch told them the shuttle bathroom looks much like a regular one, except the toilet seat is contoured to make a vacuum seal.

He showed them movies of astronauts shaving and washing their hair with waterless shampoo.

"How long does it take you to get up there?" asked Kristine Woolford, an eighth-grader.

"It takes about eight minutes and 10 seconds," answered Crouch. That surprised Kristine.

"I thought it took a day or two to get up there," she said.

In the afternoon, Crouch visited South Carroll High School to talk to science students there and give them kits. His nephew, Tim Novotny, is a ninth-grader at that school. Tim and Kim's father, Frank Novotny of Winfield, is the brother of Crouch's wife.

Students at West Middle had been preparing for Crouch's visit for a week, watching videos and films and writing questions that science teacher Sam Brutout read aloud to Crouch yesterday.

The West Middle eighth-graders wanted to know how Crouch came to be an astronaut.

"I went to a movie one time, and there was a movie about people going to the moon," he said. "And at the end it said 'the end of a beginning.' I had this dream of going to the moon, but I didn't know what I wanted to do yet."

When colorblindness disqualified him from going into the Navy or being an Air Force pilot, he decided to become a scientist.

"It seemed like the next best thing to do," he said.

Other students asked about training and how he was chosen.

"It has a lot to do with luck and how well you get along with people," Crouch said, because of the confined space shared with other astronauts. "You have to be able to communicate with each other and understand one another's personal feelings."

"Are you scared?" asked another student.

"I'm starting to get a little anxious," Crouch said. But most of all, he's excited about the opportunity to go.

Twenty-five years ago the National Aeronautics and Space Administration wasn't letting anyone over the age of 35 go into space, he said, but now physical standards are not so stringent.

For this mission, he said, he was elected by fellow scientists because of his specialty in materials and semiconductor crystal growth.

Since 1985, he has been chief scientist of the NASA Microgravity Space and Applications Division. As a payload specialist, Crouch works with scientific experiments carried on the space shuttles.

"When you come back, do you all have to go through a lot of decontamination like you used to?" asked one boy.

No, Crouch said, but scientists study the returning astronauts for about two days to monitor the effects of space travel.

And while in space, he said, he'll get to communicate with his family through a kind of electronic mail.

For anyone wanting to know more about Crouch, he has a biography on the World Wide Web, at http: //www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios.

Pub Date: 11/26/96

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