Students send the Osage language to space and hear back from Indigenous astronaut Nicole Mann

NASA astronaut Nicole Mann spoke live from the International Space Station to Osage County students as she answered their questions about space.

The Osage name for the event was π“»π“£Ν˜π“€π“˜π“»π“£Ν˜ π“˜π“¬π“˜ π“¨π“£Ν˜π“₯π“˜π“€β€™π“Ÿ π“ͺπ“₯π“£Ν˜π“Ÿ π“˜π“¬π“™, which translates to “the children are talking to the stars.”

Nicole Anapu Mann became the first Indigenous American woman in space when she joined the crew of the International Space Station (ISS) in October. Mann is a registered member of the Wailacki of the Round Valley Indian Tribes in California.

Patrick Martin is the superintendent of π“ˆπ’°π“„π“‚π“†π’Όπ’° π’°βŒƒπ’Όπ“‚π“ˆπ’°π“¬π’» (Daposka Ahnkodapi Elementary), the Osage Nation’s private elementary school. He said the school started the long application process to participate in a NASA Q&A last year.

β€œOur Chief Standing Bear, he was the visionary that started this ball rolling,” Martin said. β€œHe wanted to watch 𐓏𐒰𐓓𐒰𐓓𐒷 π’»π’·β€Ž, the Osage language, be spoken in space, and to have our children be part of that.”

Space heard its first Osage words in October when two students from the tribe’s private elementary school got to ask questions as part of an event with Indigenous news outlets from across the U.S.

β€œIt’s a big deal either way,” said Braxton Redeagle, the director of the Osage Nation Language Department. β€œThey spoke the name the Osage Nation immersion school, Daposka Ahnkodapi, which means β€˜our school.’”


Students, teachers and volunteers at the event took a picture to thank Mann for answering their questions.

A direct line to space

At October’s event, Associated Press reporter Marcia Dunn relayed the questions, and the Daposka Ahnkodapi students’ questions were just two of many from around the country. Last week’s questions all came directly from Osage County students, who asked them via pre-recorded videos.

Over 100 attendees spent the morning doing space-themed activities in a building decorated with orange and blue balloons, the colors of the NASA crew’s flight suits. The crowd gathered around a projection screen to see Mann answer 20 questions from Osage County students.

β€œWatching Nicole Mann, float down on that screen was so amazing,” said Mary Wildcat, the director of the Osage Nation Education Department. β€œTo be able to see and interact with the first Native American woman to go into space was just indescribable.”

Malana McGlaston, a fourth-grade student at Daposka Ahnkodapi, asked the first question. β€œDid you bring anything from your tribal heritage on this mission?” she asked.

Mann said she brought a dreamcatcher her mother gave her to the space station.

β€œI have it floating next to my crew quarters to remind me of home and keep my dreams good at night,” Mann said.

Mann also answered questions about how many languages are spoken by the ISS crew, how they divvy up chores, and whether you can grow tomatoes in space. Most came from students at Daposka Ahnkodapi, but students from Hominy and Pawhuska Public Schools also sent questions to the ISS.

Dominic Shackelford is a fifth-grader at Daposka Ahnkodapi. His question about what would happen if you shot a gun in space was addressed in Mann’s October Q&A session.

Mann explained that she didn’t know because it was too dangerous to shoot a gun on the space station.

Weeks later, Shackelford said he still wonders. β€œWould it bounce like a ping pong ball?” he said. β€œWould it just stop? Would it explode because of all the firepower?”


After hearing from Nicole Mann, students watched as volunteers launched rockets.

Shooting for the stars

Shackelford and his classmates have been doing space-themed activities to prepare for their conversation with Mann.

β€œLast year, we made some experiments of shooting rockets,” Shackelford said. β€œIt went great, actuallyβ€”they went so high. A small engine can have a lot of power.”

Last week’s event featured even more cosmic fun. The Q&A took place at the Osage County Fairgrounds, and Attendees could design their own mission patch, like the SpaceX Crew-5 patch Mann wears. Students decorated space cookies, watched rocket demos from Tulsa Rocketry and toured the ISS using virtual reality headsets.

β€œThe learning curve for usβ€”with space, with NASA, with gravityβ€”has just been exponential,” Superintendent Martin said. β€œWe started at zero, and we’ve just been going up and up and up until today.”

Martin said one of their final activities before the Q&A event was a bonfire night where students, teachers and parents watched the ISS pass overhead.

β€œWe were all out there, way out in the country, brilliant night sky,” Martin said. β€œWe saw the astronauts fly by for three minutes. And it was so exciting for the kids. They just were awestruck, looking up into the sky and seeing the astronauts that we’re going to talk to today.”

Robyn Rulo is an academic advisor with the Osage Nation Education Department. She said the students also learned Osage words that had to do with space.

Rulo said she hopes the event helped Osage students envision themselves in careers as astronauts, researchers or engineers.

It seems that mission has been a success. Fifth-grader Joseph Duty asked how Mann could tell when she reached microgravity. Duty said he needed to know because he might be interested in going to space himself someday.

β€œThe more times we’ve exposed a lot of our students to these career paths, we show them the sky is the limit,” Rulo said. β€œBy seeing Nicole Mann up in space, they’re able to identify our people in space. And now it’s possible to reach for the stars.”

This report was produced by the Oklahoma Public Media Exchange, a collaboration of public media organizations. Help support collaborative journalism by donating at the link at the top of this webpage.

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