Abu Dhabi pupils learn about life in space in talk with Nasa astronaut

Pupils at Brighton College Abu Dhabi enjoy video call with seasoned space traveller Michael Fincke

US astronaut Michael Fincke attends a press conference outside Moscow in Star City on April 10, 2009. A Russian Soyuz TMA-13 space capsule carrying US astronaut Michael Fincke, US billionaire space tourist Charles Simonyi, and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Lonchakov returned to earth on April 8.           AFP PHOTO / DMITRY KOSTYUKOV (Photo by DMITRY KOSTYUKOV / AFP)
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Pupils at an Abu Dhabi school learnt about the challenges of travelling through space in a video call with a Nasa astronaut.

Close to 200 children aged from 4 to 18 at Brighton College Abu Dhabi were given the lowdown on a life reaching for the stars by Michael Fincke, who once held the record for the most time spent in space by an American – a staggering 381 days.

The unique departure from the school timetable was particularly timely as the Hope probe's mission to Mars reaches its crucial final stages over the next week.

Enthused pupils prepared 100 questions for their special caller, but had enough time to ask only 25.

Christopher Greenfield, a physics teacher at the college organised the event to pique pupils' interest in space exploration.

Christopher Greenfield
Christopher Greenfield, physics teacher at Brighton College Abu Dhabi, organised a video call for pupils with US astronaut Michael Fincke.

"The UAE Space Agency is very active, particularly looking at the Mars mission," Mr Greenfield said.

"I have a strong interest in the current Mars mission and when pupils return to class, we will be following the developments.

"The space agency is at our doorstep and I want to get pupils involved."

The Hope probe is reaching the most complex part of its mission, which is the entry into orbit around Mars on February 9.

Mr Greenfield previously worked as a head teacher at Nasa's international space school where he interacted with many astronauts.

He wanted pupils to engage with astronauts so they could get a first-hand account of what it was like to be in space.

"I want my pupils to become astronauts and space explorers in the future," he said.

Pupils asked the astronaut about the most challenging thing about going to space, to which he answered it was missing his family.

They asked Mr Fincke about how birthdays are celebrated and what his favourite food in space was.

When asked about one thing he would like to take to the International Space Station, he said although it would not be possible he would love to take his family.

Mr Greenfield, who has a degree in astrophysics, said his class is following the UAE's Hope Probe closely.

Marta Galan Cano, 12, a Year 8t pupil, is just one youngster captivated by the Arab world's maiden journey to the Red Planet.

"I am very excited about the UAE Mars mission," she said.

"In our class, we had discussions on the work it would take to get to Mars."

Marta said she was excited about speaking to an astronaut who had been to space three times.

"We learnt a lot of things, like the fact that astronauts train in swimming pools," she said.

"He answered my question about how long one takes to recover after coming back from space."

Mr Fincke's answer was that it varied from four to six weeks depending on body type and height.

Tess Van De Veire, 12, a Year 7 pupil, said she asked Mr Fincke about how he coped with being away from his family.

"He said that in space, you are not allowed to text but you can have video conferences and calls quite often," she said.

"He said it was pretty much about looking forward to the calls and savouring these."