Charlie Crist, astronaut and NASA administrator talk space with Pinellas County students
Artist concept of the SpaceX Starship on the surface of the moon. Image via SpaceX/NASA.

What's it like going into space?

Pinellas County students got a glimpse of outer space from the comfort of their homes Monday morning. 

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist hosted an hour-long online town hall for Pinellas County students, families and teachers to discuss NASA’s future. Crist, who represents Florida’s 13th Congressional District, was joined by astronaut Mike Fincke and NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine

“The classroom is often where a love of science actually begins, so thank you to all our teachers tuning in today,” Crist said in his opening statement.

The group discussed the Artemis program, which includes plans to send the first women and the next men to the moon. Bridenstine, a former U.S. Rep. for Oklahoma and first elected official to be NASA administrator, emphasized the need for diversity in the space program as they continue studying  space and space travel. 

“I don’t like to say that we’re going back to the moon. I like to say we’re going forward to the moon,” Bridenstine said. “This time when we go to the moon, we’re going with all of America.”

Students also got to hear from Fincke about his time in space. Fincke served two tours at the International Space Station and flew on one Space Shuttle mission. He presented a slide show teaching kids about the history of space exploration, and showed pictures of his time in space. 

The astronaut also showed pictures of him as a child using rockets, encouraging students to pursue an interest in STEM. Fincke talked about the unity in space among astronauts, and gave details of his time on the space station .

“We’re a lot of different people from all over the planet, working together,” Fincke said. 

In the last 30 minutes of the presentation, the speakers answered questions sent in by Pinellas County students ranging from elementary school to high school. 

Most questions were directed at Fincke, and ranged from scientific inquiries about the future of space travel, to what the food was like at the space station. Fincke said he missed fresh food, but it wasn’t bad.

A 6th grade student at Oak Grove Middle School asked Fincke, “What was the hardest thing you had to do to become an astronaut?”

Learning how to fly, Fincke said. 

A 7th grade student asked what characteristics make a good astronaut. 

“We need people that can work together as a team,” Fincke said. “Not every astronaut was the top of their class in everything. But just about every astronaut knows how to work together as a team.”

At the end of the presentation, Bridenstine announced Fincke will be flying on the Boeing Starliner early next year. Boeing is using the space craft to send astronauts to the International Space Station as its program tests private space flight. 

Kelly Hayes

Kelly Hayes studied journalism and political science at the University of Florida. Kelly was born and raised in Tampa Bay. A recent graduate, she enjoys government and legal reporting. She has experience covering the Florida Legislature as well as local government, and is a proud Alligator alum. You can reach Kelly at [email protected].


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