by Neil Carleton
10 years ago Almonte students spoke with the commander of the international space station in orbit by amateur radio
“November-Alpha-1-Sierra-Sierra, this is R. Tait McKenzie Public School calling.” History was made one decade ago, on November 23, when students at R. Tait McKenzie Public School, in Almonte, made radio contact with the Commander of the International Space Station (ISS) as the Expedition 3 crew passed high overhead in orbit.
This exciting educational project, using amateur radio at school to connect students with an astronaut in space, took place at 5:46 a.m. before most students and parents are usually out of bed. Although there may have been a few sleepy heads in attendance, every chair in the school gym was filled by 5:30 a.m., and there was standing room only along the sides and back. There was a hush before 5:45 as everyone waited for the ISS to come over the western horizon and into radio range.
This was a prearranged contact through the newly established Amateur Radio on the International Space Station program. With the dedicated support of volunteers from the Almonte Amateur Radio Club, an extensive school application was prepared and submitted in February 2001. The telephone call came on November 1stthat our contact with the ISS was scheduled in 22 days.
The first call to the space station went unanswered. So did the second and third calls to NA1SS. I could see concerned faces turning, and whispered conversations. “Something must be wrong”. We didn’t know that our radio contact coordinator, Bob Clermont VE3AKV, was creating some drama. He was watching the clock very carefully as he made each call, and knew the ISS wouldn’t be within radio range for more than a minute. On the fourth call, there was the voice of the commander of the space station. “Oh, you are up” he joked. There was visible relief everywhere in the gym.
As an audience of about 400 students, families, invited guests, and community visitors watched and listened, one student from each grade level took turns stepping up to the microphone and speaking directly by amateur radio with Commander Frank L. Culbertson Jr. in orbit on the space station Each of the nine students, from kindergarten to grade 8, asked a prepared question about the space station, or life in space. The answers, transmitted directly from the ISS, were heard throughout the gym by all those who came to celebrate the event.
Before the ISS disappeared over the eastern horizon about ten minutes later, and out of radio range, the cheering, clapping, and whistling from the audience let Commander Culbertson know this was a unique event that would be remembered for many years to come. It was a remarkable community effort, and many people were involved in different ways to make this special project such a success. I’m proud to have worked with such skilled, experienced, and dedicated volunteers from all across our community.
A decade later, I’m still excited about the day we spoke with an astronaut in space by amateur radio.
A YouTube video of the 2001 event, with the student questions and astronaut answers, can be viewed at the website of the Almonte Amateur Radio Club. At www.almontearclub.ca, click along the top bar on ARISS/EVEREST MEDIA EVENT GALLERY.
The press kit for ISS Expedition 3, with background information about the crew members and mission experiments, is available at www.shuttlepresskit.com/expedition3/SPK-Exp3.pdf