This is Gaithersburg to Space Station: Come In

* About 300 seventh-graders at Forest Oak Middle School in Gaithersburg had an out-of-this-world experience yesterday.

The kids got to talk to astronaut Leroy Chiao and cosmonaut Salizhan Sharipov from the International Space Station. During the 22-minute session, real-time video of the astronauts was projected on a large screen in the school auditorium. The pair, 250 miles above Earth, answered questions over a telephone line.

Forest Oak was chosen by NASA and the Department of Education about three weeks ago because of the school's strong math and science program, Principal John Burley said.

Chiao and Sharipov threw a ball around and did back flips in response to one student's request for them to show whether the laws of gravity work in space.

Seventh-grader Dominique Cronin got a laugh from Sharipov when she asked him, "How do you eat and sleep in space, and is the food any good?" When Sharipov stopped giggling, he said the food is "very good."

Chiao told students that he has wanted to be an astronaut since he first saw man walk on the moon in 1969. Sometimes he doesn't believe his dream has become real, he said. "I can't believe I'm doing this stuff. This is really cool."

Seventh-graders Joseph Tchimou and Mindy Phuong were among the students who spoke to International Space Station cosmonaut Salizhan Sharipov, top left, and astronaut Leroy Chiao.