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Ham radio lets ISS crewmembers connect with schools around the world

The Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) program is having a very busy and successful April.

So far this month, Amateur Radio has made it possible for youngsters at nine schools in the US, the Netherlands, Australia, Hungary and Russia to speak with the astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the ISS as well as with a civilian guest. On April 12 alone, students at three schools got the chance to talk with those aboard the ISS. Two ARISS school contacts April 17 brought the total to 286 since the first ISS crew came aboard in November 2000. ARISS is an international educational outreach, with US participation by ARRL, AMSAT and NASA.

ARISS International Secretary Rosalie White, K1STO, called it „a very ambitious schedule for our dedicated team of volunteers.” She noted that civilian space traveler Charles Simonyi, KE7KDP/HA5SIK, has been spending some of his precious time in space on the air. „Charles Simonyi is making hams happy by getting on the air at various times from the ISS,” White said. „Over his homeland of Hungary, he made QSOs with over 20 ham stations using his Hungarian call sign.” Simonyi, who paid the Russian space agency some $25 million for his 10-day space adventure, handled four ARISS school contacts during his stay.

He’ll return to Earth at the end of the week. Still ahead in April are ARISS school contacts in Italy, Germany, Illinois and Virginia. The space station’s orbital pattern this month enabled ARISS Earth stations in Australia to serve as a conduit for four of the question-and-answer sessions between ISS crew members at NA1SS, including direct contacts with two schools down under. Verizon Conferencing provided two-way teleconferencing links between the stations and the schools for five so-called „telebridge” contacts.

Australia Calling
On April 2, youngsters at St Michaels Primary School in New South Wales, Australia, had 17 questions asked and answered by Expedition 14 Commander Mike Lopez-Alegria, KE5GTK, as some 240 people looked on. The event also attracted a TV crew and reporters from two regional newspapers. Expedition 14/15 astronaut Suni Williams, KD5PLB, told youngsters at Glenden State School in Queensland, Australia, April 4 that human habitation of the ISS is part of a larger effort to understand what happens to the human body in long-term space flight.

„You guys will be the ones who will be venturing off to other planets,” she told the students. She noted that ham radio is „always a fallback plan” if other communication systems go down. The contact culminated some nine months of planning at the school. On April 10, Lopez-Alegria took the helm at NA1SS to answer questions for youngsters at Delta Researchers School, a human spaceflight project for primary schools in the Netherlands, aimed at using human spaceflight as a theme to integrate science and technology into the curriculum.

ARISS was even able this month to put the space program within the reach of 22 youngsters attending the tiny, remote Salt Creek Primary School in South Australia. On April 12, Williams answered more than a dozen youngsters’ questions, including whether she’d ever seen a „black hole” in space. „Thank God we haven’t,” Williams quipped. „I don’t thing we’d see it for very long at all.”

Running the Race
On April 16, Patriots Day in her native Massachusetts, Williams became the first human to run the 26-mile Boston Marathon in space. She finished the race on a specially designed treadmill in 4 hours, 23 minutes, 10 seconds. Simonyi handled the other two April 12 contacts, speaking with students at Fairborn High School in Ohio and at Puskás Tivadar Távközlési Technikum in Budapest, Hungary. The latter contact, a first for Hungary, generated considerable news media interest for several days. „Fantastic PR both for Charles and for ham radio!” Chris Hildebrand, HG5XA, reported afterward. „I could not meet anyone today who had not heard of Charles and Amateur Radio.

Simonyi told the Fairborn students he’s having a good time in microgravity. „It’s a lot of fun, but you have to be careful in the beginning because it’s easy to get sick, but once you get used to it, in about a day or two, it becomes a lot of fun,” he said. Following the contact, Fairborn teacher Barb Skusa commented on the level of excitement at the school. „It was truly a thrill to be part of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she told ARISS Mentor Charlie Sufana, AJ9N. „I actually had tears in my eyes.”

On April 16 Simonyi spoke via ham radio with students at Redmond High School in Redmond, Washington, the home of Microsoft where he once developed software. „I think that space is one of the best things that humanity does,” he told the high schoolers. „And to participate in it - just even in a very small way - I think it’s a privilege, and getting young people like you involved in science, that’s just a bonus.” Lake Washington School District Director of Communications Kathryn Reith remarked later that the Redmond students were „spellbound - they were completely focused on what was happening” and „left the library buzzing with excitement.”

The following day, youngsters at Cedar Point Elementary School in Bristow, Virginia, quizzed Simonyi about his time in space. He explained that he doesn’t really have a work assignment aboard the ISS. „Well, I’m a tourist, actually, so I don’t need to have a job, but I signed up for a number of interesting science experiments to help,” Simony said. „For example, measuring the radiation in space.” He also said he was enjoying himself on the ISS, liked the food, didn’t feel isolated and hadn’t had much time to read the two books he brought along

Also on April 17, Expedition 15 Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin, RN3FI, spoke in Russian with students attending Kursk State Technical University in Russia. Yurchikhin formally assumed command of the ISS that same day. The ISS occupants have managed to work around a busy schedule of crew handover activities to accommodate the ARISS school contacts. Simonyi will accompany Expedition 14’s Lopez-Alegria and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin, RZ3FT, when they return to Earth April 21 aboard a Soyuz transporter.