Endeavour Crew Talks to Tucson Elementary Schoolchildren While in Orbit

PHOTO: Commander Mark Kelly, left, and Mission Specialist Mike Fincke aboard space shuttle Endeavour talk to students at Mesa Verde Elementary SchoolPlayNASA
WATCH Mark Kelly, Shooting Victim's Classmates Chat

While most grown-ups have become blase about space shuttle missions, astronauts in orbit, with their talk of zero G somersaults and floating M&Ms, easily capture the imaginations of children.

Elementary school classmates of the youngest victim of the January Tucson, Ariz., shootings chatted Sunday with space shuttle Endeavour astronauts Mark Kelly and Mike Fincke while they were in orbit. The Sunday night talk at Mesa Verde Elementary School was a priority for Kelly, the father of two teenage girls.

Kelly, the husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who was shot in the head in Tucson rampage, has been haunted by Christina's death, and he told ABC News' Diane Sawyer earlier this year it agonized him when he thought about it.

"It's just not fair and you know, you just can't explain it," he said. "You know, how this could happen?"

One thing Kelly could give was his time, and that's why students crowded into school on a Sunday night to talk to the astronauts.

He told them that when he was Christina's age, "I was watching Neil Armstrong walking on the moon, and I told myself that if I worked really hard, maybe one day I would have the opportunity to fly in space, and I did work hard and it did work out. It was those early Apollo astronauts like Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan that inspired me."

Kelly has impressed many with his ability to handle the events since the shooting with grace and dignity. But his sense of humor comes through when he talks to children about space travel.

Endeavour Cmdr. Mark Kelly Answers Questions From Orbit

Q: How long does it take to get to space?

Kelly: "We go from zero to 17,500 mph in 8 minutes and 20 seconds. When those main engines start, it's like being on a runaway train that is going 1,000 mph."

Q: How fast do you go?

Kelly: "Right now, we are going 17,500 mph, We see a sunrise and sunset every 45 minutes. If you go outside in spacewalk, it is in the vacuum of space. Even though you are going fast it is not like sticking your arm out the window of a car. You don't feel the air rushing by.

Kelly's colleague, Mike Fincke, fielded questions about UFOs and aliens.

Q: Whats the strangest thing you have seen in space?

Fincke: "One of the reasons we are up here is to find new things. I don't think anyone up here has even seen a UFO or an alien, but we are keeping our eyes open."

At the end of the session, Kelly showed the students a scrapbook he brought into space for them that he would give to Mesa Verde Elementary School after Endeavour lands. It is currently scheduled to come home before dawn on June 1.