In Krystal Elementary School's multipurpose room, students clapped their hands over their ears as James Sokolik flipped on a motor, causing his companion to shift in his seat.

The pressurized flight suit has been Sokolik's focus for decades, as a life support technician at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base.

Since 1987, the suits he's helped design and build have only been pressurized on two missions. That's a good thing, because the suit is the only thing that will keep a pilot alive if the high-altitude planes used in NASA atmospheric study lose cabin pressure while soaring 10 miles above the ground, where even clouds look like tiny cotton balls far below.

The $200,000 suit, he explained, is similar in purpose and function to the orange jumpsuits NASA astronauts wear on missions. (The suit Sokolik brought to school was actually a retired one, and presumably not worth as much as may of the surrounding houses.)

"That's what a space suit does," Sokolik said. "That's what a flight suit does. It protects people just in case something happens."

Krystal is the Hesperia Unified School District's science, technology and math "choice" school, and many of the students brought their curiosity to the assemblies (one even wore a fake NASA flight jacket, complete with mission patches). Sokolik was quizzed on how a pilot functions in the suit.

"Did you see that before, or just figure that out?" he asked a girl as she poked a straw on a pilot's water bottle through a port on the neck of the flight suit.

"Figured it out."

"Wow, that's really good. Very smart."

And kids being kids, there was one inevitable question.

"How do they use the restroom?" Sokolik repeated. "I knew I wasn't going to get away without answering that one."

The answer involves not eating any heavy foods before a flight -- only liquids can be passed while in-flight -- the high pressure inside the suit and a zippered exit on the inside of the suit's thigh.

But there was one question Sokolik didn't want to answer.

"How does an airplane fly? That's a matter of aerodynamics," he said. "I'll let your teachers explain that. You'll enjoy that," he grinned at a teacher. "I'll have a lot of science teachers hating me by the time I go."

(The answers to how an airplane flies -- including the more complex answer that points out that the most commonly understood reason is wrong -- are linked on the Web site.)

"I want to thank everyone for the nice questions," Sokolik said, as the assembly ended. "I didn't expect such good questions from such a young group."

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at Follow us on Twitter at