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London students over the moon after chat with astronaut aboard the ISS

A group of London Grade 6 students got to speak with a Canadian astronaut as he circled the globe aboard the International Space Station on Thursday.

For about 10 minutes, students peppered Mark Pathy with questions

Charlotte Lyras, right, and Sarah Acheampong each asked a question of of Mark Pathy, one of three men to paid to join the Ax-1 mission to the International Space Station. (Andrew Lupton/CBC )

In this era of real-time video chats, the ability to speak with someone miles away is, to most kids, probably no big deal.

But a group of London Grade 6 students were awestruck on Thursday after connecting in real-time with a fellow Canadian aboard the International Space Station (ISS) as it orbited 400 kilometres above the Earth. 

The students at Sainte-Jeanne-d'Arc Catholic elementary took part in a special call with Mark Pathy, one of three Canadians who paid their way onto the 10-day Ax-1 mission. Operated by Axiom Space, it's the first all-private astronaut mission to the ISS.

Student Sebastian Sanchez-Arevalo was able to ask astronaut Mark Pathy a question from the gym of Sainte-Jeanne-d'Arc elementary in London, Ont. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

The students spoke to Pathy using a HAM radio connection through an operator on the ground in New Hampshire. That signal was then beamed into the school's gym and broadcast over speakers as the students sat on the floor, hanging on every word. 

The connection started with the crackle of static before Pathy's voice could be heard, causing the students to erupt into applause. 

Once the connection was made, the kids had only about a 10-minute window to get in their questions. That's because the station is whipping around the Earth at a speed of about 27,000 kilometres an hour. At that rate, it circles the planet every 90 minutes, which means the communication window doesn't stay say open for long before the ISS is out of radio range. 

'What made you want to go to space?'

Student Sarah Acheampong wasted no time and put the first question to Pathy. 

"What made you want to go to space?" she asked seconds after the connection was established. She and her classmates followed instructions to end each question with: "Over."

"I watched a TV show called Star Trek when I was a kid and that made me really want to travel through space," said Pathy. 

The 52-year-old Montreal businessman also said watching footage of the 1969 lunar landing inspired him. 

From there, the questions covered everything from food in space to what Pathy brought with him on the mission. 

Mark Pathy spoke to a group of students at a London, Ont., elementary school on Thursday from the International Space Station. (Axiom Space)

At about the 10-minute mark, the connection began to fade as the ISS started to slip over the horizon and out of radio range. Pathy was answering a question when static overtook the signal. 

The call ended quickly, but appears to have made a lasting impression on the students.

"It was amazing," said Acheampong. "We got to talk to an astronaut, it was so fun."

And while the Ax-1 mission does carry three astronauts who paid US$55-million each to join the 10-day trip, it's also carrying out legitimate search. 

Western University researcher Eric Pilles is working with the mission to gather high-resolution images of selected "targets" on the Earth's surface. Those images will help his students research everything from shifting coastlines to how human development is affecting the planet. 

Pilles is excited by the research value that will come of those images. He also enjoyed seeing the students' reactions when they heard an astronaut speaking to them from orbit. 

"When the radio kicked in, you could feel the energy in the room as everyone got excited to hear what the astronaut had to say," said Pilles.

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