Astronaut chats with Winnipeg students

Astronaut Robert Thirsk, a former student of Winnipeg's John Taylor Collegiate, sent a long-distance greeting to his alma mater on Wednesday.

Astronaut Robert Thirsk, a former student of Winnipeg's John Taylor Collegiate, sent a long-distance greeting to his alma mater on Wednesday.

"Hello, John Taylor Collegiate. Great to be talking to you today," Thirsk, 56, said to a group of students gathered at the St. James-Assiniboia School Division board offices on Portage Avenue.

The students asked about the science he was doing to what it felt like in space.

"It feels surreal," Thirsk said. "It feels magical, but it does take a different way of operating in a weightless environment. But it's a lot of fun. I can fly like Superman all over the space station."

Thirsk is a member of a six-person crew that will live on the International Space Station for six months. On May 27, he and two other crewmates launched from Kazakhstan to join three others already aboard the station.

This is Thirsk's second trip into space, and the first time a Canadian has participated in a long space mission.

While he was orbiting above the Earth, Thirsk was linked to the students via a ham radio operator in Hawaii, for a long-distance call that lasted about an hour.

"The experiments that we're working on are classified into life science, animal biology, plant biology, materials processing, [and] microgravity science," Thirsk told them. "We're actually performing over 100 different experiments from around the world."

Thirsk, a medical doctor who also attended primary and secondary schools in British Columbia and Alberta, is also responsible for maintaining and repairing the space station.

He is conducting an experiment on changes in the body's immune system, a contribution that could help doctors on Earth deal with viruses like H1N1.