WebEx and that ‘ground control’ feeling

I’ve used several Web conference platforms over the past five years, and many of them have had their good, bad and clunky sides. From Skype and WebEx and Adobe, to those with particularly odd names, such as Oovoo and DimDim. I recently used Join.Me when working on my book, Chat Republic, and its screen-share option was stunningly simple.

But today, for a project involving NASA, and my school, we connected 27 classrooms via WebEx, and I have to say it was one of the most relaxes web chats I’ve ever had. I was nervous, because so much was at stake.

Some 425 children were all agog about being able to ‘Talk to an Astronaut’ who happened to be not just any astronaut, but the first Native American in Space, Commander John Herrington.

Students would step up to the phone (we were dialing in on plain-old-telephones to make sure the line was stable; no wireless gizmos!) and ask their questions, and could see Commander Herrington break into a smile and respond. More about that event here.

I was really impressed with the WebEx platform. It may not have the look and feel as, say Adobe, but it does the job by keeping things simple.

Sure, astronauts deal with instrument dashboards that you and I will probably never come into contact with, but for the rest of us –non rocket-scientists– the simple interface works. Especially when all we want to do is chat, just like we were in the same room.

Mars Day –and a chance to talk to an astronaut!

This year I’m expanding Mars Day (an event I started last year) to the whole school, thanks to the Mars Space Flight Facility at ASU, and NASA.

Students can’t get enough of science. I’ve been amazed at the interest from students as early as in Kindergarten. They already know the name and the spacecraft that put the first American into orbit. Some of them have even begun giving me artistic rendering of the spaceship that will one day take a human to Mars.

I love being able to tell them that by the time they are my age, it’s most likely that a human would be walking on Mars. I liberally borrow from Buzz Aldrin’s breathtaking vision of that time (in “Mission To Mars“) where he shows us blueprints for how we would be “a two-planet species”!

Back on planet earth, we are lucky this year to get Commander John Herrington, the first Native American in Space, to speak to my kids via video hook up. It’s a complex set up, making sure we have a stable connection into the library where students will talk to an astronaut, while the rest of the classes watch the event on their smart boards!

If we could chat with astronauts on the space shuttle, or get a live feed from a robot on Mars, this should not be complicated.

Stay tuned!