By: Tim Studebaker

NEWPORT, R.I. (WLNE) – The gymnasium was packed at the Pell Elementary School in Newport on Tuesday afternoon.  Everyone waited with bated breath for the first sign of transmission from the International Space Station.

The call came in from Astronaut Ricky Arnold: “I have you loud and clear.  I'm ready to start when you guys are.  Over.”

It's “Space Chat” number 3, part of a program run by volunteers that gives Rhode Island students a chance to speak directly with an astronaut aboard the ISS.  The event came during the UN's World Space Week, all in the name of STEAM education.

Pell Elementary School Principal Traci Westman says, "You can be anything you want to be.  You can be an astronaut, whatever career path you have.  And I think students actually asking astronauts makes that a reality for them."

It was a new challenge for STEAM volunteer/advocate and organizer Mike Cullen.  This time around, the crowd was younger compared with past space chats.

Cullen says, "We had to make sure that we're working with the right school teachers to generate a really healthy set of questions from these really, really young kids."

Besides age, there was another key difference.

Cullen says, “This was Rhode Island's very first Space Chat with a Rhode Island public school.”

Governor Raimondo marked the occasion, and even got to ask some of the students' questions with them.

On behalf of a student, the Governor asked, "Hi my name is Arayah, why aren't there more girl astronauts?  Over."

The ISS moves very quickly.  The window of opportunity was less than 10 minutes, but it was enough to make a real impact.

Pell Elementary School 2nd Grader Alan Beeman says, "My mom and dad were like so proud, and I was proud of myself.  I'm going to be an astronaut."

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