Astronaut Tammy Jernigan visits Mountain Meadow Elementary

Elementary schoolers asked her questions about the five times she went to space: here are her answers.

It was an assembly that was out of this world.

Well, no, it was still in the Mountain Meadow Elementary gymnasium, but the guest of honor during the May 2 event was the famed Dr. Tamara (Tammy) Jernigan, who has a long list of careers and accomplishments – but perhaps most notably as a former NASA astronaut who has left the planet behind five times in her career.

Some of our readers may have watched her launches: her first three was on the Columbia in 1991, 1992, and 1996, plus a trip on the Endeavor in 1995 and then the Discovery in 1999. In total, Jernigan has spent more than 63 days in space, which includes eight hours of “extra-vehicular activity,” also known as space walks.

According to her official NASA biography, her missions included studying human and animal cells in microgravity conditions and how they reacted to re-entering Earth’s atmosphere; deploy satellites to both observe our planet and help with the construction of the International Space Station; observe the universe through ultraviolet light, thanks to space telescopes; and actually helped in the expansion of the Space Station.

“[It] was much smaller when I visited,” she said in an interview before the assembly. “And now it’s the size of a football stadium, almost, orbiting the earth, with an international crew on board.”

She recounted her experience to students, several of them unable to stop themselves from asking her questions during her presentation, which included images and videos of her and her crew drinking juice globs through straws, spinning in endless summersaults, and, of course, her venture into the void.

In a short interview before the assembly, Jernigan compared her space walk to the Grand Canyon.

“If you sit in your car and you look at the Grand Canyon, it looks majestic, right. But if you get out of your car and stand and look at it from the edge… and you take in the full 360-degree view, it’s just extraordinary,” she said. “This idea that the Earth is this lone orb — it’s not. It’s part of some vast universe, and you get a sense of that vastness and that majesty of the universe when you’re out there.”

This is a common feeling many astronauts have when they’re in space, called “the overview effect”— a sense of awe of the totality and fragility of Earth, and the sheer scale of an possibly-infinite universe.

“A part of it is seeing the Earth itself. Part of it is seeing the Earth against the backdrop of the universe,” Frank White, a space philosopher who coined the phrase in 1987 and who experienced a self-described “mild” effect when he was flying across the U.S. and look out his window, said in a NASA podcast back in 2019. “… The overview effect is beyond words.”


Jernigan visited a fifth-grade classroom after the assembly to take some questions from students.

Below are some of the questions, and her answers, as recorded by school staff.

Q: What was gravity like?

A: Tammy said that it felt like having zero pressure on your body. When she comes home, she has to get used to gravity pulling her down all of the time. You had to be careful with how much force you used to move around. The difficult part of gravity is when you wish to be still, you have to strap yourself into places to do so. If they wished to stand, they would have to strap their feet into loops on the ground to stay in one spot. Also, on earth alot of our body fluid is stored in our legs, and while you are in space most astronauts will report having a puffier face and skinny/thinner legs due to their body fluid being even throughout their whole body. She had a crew member that had a funny moment adjusting to gravity again when they landed. They were used to being able to take a photo in space, and then let go of their camera because it would just float next to them. Once they landed, they wanted to take a picture of their family in front of the shuttle they just flew down in. After they took the photo of their family, they dropped their camera right in front of them, forgetting that it wouldn’t float like it did in space!

Q: How do you eat in space?

A: It can be difficult! You have dehydrated space food, and to hydrate it you add cold or hot water. You also have to be careful when eating, one time she was eating green beans and accidently flinged the green beans she was eating, she had to hunt down the beans all over the shuttle. When you are drinking you have to drink through a straw, and then put a clip on your straw so the liquid doesn’t float about the cabin in little droplets.

Q: How do you go to the bathroom?

A: The toilets have to have suction in order for the contents not to float about the cabin. This message was delivered with a “don’t attempt this at home” message.

Q: Does space change your body?

A: On average, astronauts grow 1-1.5 inches due to gravity not compressing their spine. This means that when they are creating their space clothes or space suit, they have to add on an inch to their measurements. Once they are back on land however, they return to their normal height after a few days.

Q: How do you sleep in space?

A: You have to strap yourself or your sleeping bag down while you are sleeping, otherwise you would float around the cabin!

Q: How do you breathe in space? Are their plants?

A: Space shuttles come equipped with oxygen tanks, there isn’t enough space to have enough plants to create all of the oxygen that they would need.

Q: What if you have an itch on your nose when you are in the middle of a space walk?

A: You have to try your best to ignore it, coming back into the shuttle to scratch your nose is not an option. You have to be ready to spend eight hours without coming back into the shuttle.

Q: What was your favorite mission?

A: All of her missions are special to her, but her first mission was the most memorable. You really don’t know what the rocket is like or what space is like until once you experience it.

About half a month ago, Mountain Meadow students were provided solar eclipse glasses so they could watch the rare event, and then drew what they saw. Photo by Ray Miller-Still

About half a month ago, Mountain Meadow students were provided solar eclipse glasses so they could watch the rare event, and then drew what they saw. Photo by Ray Miller-Still