Astronaut Dan Tani shares secrets with Lombard students

  • Astronaut Dan Tani chats with Gia Dagenhart, a kindergartner at Pleasant Lane Elementary in Lombard. She's holding a photo of her dad who posed with Tani in 2002. Gia's father died before she was born and Tani signed the photo for her before giving his talk.

      Astronaut Dan Tani chats with Gia Dagenhart, a kindergartner at Pleasant Lane Elementary in Lombard. She's holding a photo of her dad who posed with Tani in 2002. Gia's father died before she was born and Tani signed the photo for her before giving his talk. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 1/14/2010 5:19 PM

Astronaut Dan Tani believes there are "aliens" out there somewhere in space, but so far away we will never see or know about them.

One of the Lombard native's favorite space foods is peanut butter and M&Ms on a tortilla, but back on Earth, he says, "I can't go too long without an Italian beef."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The hardest part of spending 120 days in space was not being able to see his family. But he also missed being able to spit out the toothpaste.

Dani, dressed in a blue NASA jumpsuit, earned his share of wide eyes and giggles Thursday when he spoke to kindergarten through fifth-graders at Pleasant Lane Elementary School in Lombard.

Tani was part of a three-person crew on the International Space Station from October 2007 to February 2008.

During that time, he told the children, he took 14,000 photos from space - including some of Lombard clearly showing Madison Meadow Park, right near his childhood home on Cherry Lane.

Tani also spoke at Westlake Middle School's science fair kickoff on Wednesday night. Tani attended Westlake when it was a junior high.

"I love science fairs," said the MIT graduate, who is now working in a management support role for NASA astronauts. "I just love finding out what interesting topics (students) come up with."

For the younger kids, Tani punched up the science with plenty of wow factor. The kids laughed at scenes of flying potato chips and floating blobs of water. And they learned:

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• Astronauts see 16 sunrises and 16 sunsets during a 24-hour period.

• The 81/2 minutes from launch to outer space is "really exciting, like a great roller-coaster ride."

• Although the space-station astronauts were traveling 17,000 mph, Santa was still able to find them on Christmas.

Fifth-grade teacher Marcy Novak, who travels to the Space Center in Houston next month to give her 15th workshop on incorporating space lessons into the classroom, helped bring Tani to Pleasant Lane. Space artifacts in her classroom include tile from the space shuttle.

On Thursday, Tani gave the school a small flag that flew on the space shuttle Atlantis when it came to pick him up.

"It was inspirational," fifth-grader Dylan Goodale said after the astronaut's talk. "I would go up in space if I had the chance."

"It's really cool," classmate Justin Corrigan agreed.

But possibly the most important lesson Thursday was about working hard and following your dreams.

Tani liked to build model rockets when he was a boy, and always liked to make things "go fast and high." After his first shuttle mission, he trained an additional five years to be able to work on the space station.

"I hope you think about what some of your goals and dreams might be," Principal Stephanie Loth told students, "and how you might have to work to achieve those dreams."