Successful Ham Radio Contact between Students and Space Station Excites and Inspires

“My best day as a teacher!” That was educator Kathryn Craven’s exuberant reaction following a successful October 22 ham radio contact between International Space Station (ISS) crew member Serena Auñón-Chancellor, KG5TMT, and youngsters at Ashford School in Ashford, Connecticut. ARRL Headquarters provided equipment for the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS)-sponsored event, and several ARRL Headquarters staffers were among those assisting in setting up the station, working with teachers, students, and the media, shooting photos, and offering other support.

The entire student body of the kindergarten-through-eighth grade school in northeastern Connecticut sat in rapt attention during the event, as a dozen of their classmates spoke directly to Auñón-Chancellor, who was at the helm of NA1SS on the ISS. Using ARRL’s equipment, members of the Eastern Connecticut Amateur Radio Association (ECARA) set up the Earth station (KZ1M), with technical and hands-on help from W1AW Station Manager Joe Carcia, NJ1Q, who also assisted in summoning NA1SS for the approximately 10-minute pass.

One reporter asked Carcia what was being displayed on the large screen. “I explained that the program we were using — SatPC32 — allowed us to see where the ISS is located and controlled the rotators with respect to our location,” he said.

Some Ashford School students have been studying microgravity and are working on a research project that they hope will eventually be selected to be conducted on the ISS. Auñón-Chancellor, the Mission 56/57 flight surgeon, answered 16 student questions that ranged from “Do you wear sunscreen into space?” to “What is the hardest thing about having zero gravity?” and “How many flips can you do?”

Others attending on behalf of ARRL were ARRL Lifelong Learning Manager Kris Bickell, K1BIC; Lifelong Learning and Knowledge Department Administrator Ally Riedel, KM3ALF; ARRL Communications Content Producer Michelle Patnode, W3MVP, and ARRL Communications Manager David Isgur, N1RSN.

“It was great!” Patnode said afterward. “The space station responded right away, and everyone instantly got so excited.”

Crews from four local television stations and print publication reporters joined an audience of more than 400.

“We are so incredibly grateful to ARISS, ECARA, and ARRL for making this possible for the entire Ashford School community,” a statement on the school’s website said. “Our students were literally bursting with excitement at the end of the contact, and many staff members were driven to tears over the wonder they felt during this contact. We even heard many students exclaiming that they wanted to be astronauts as they headed out of the cafeteria and on to the rest of their school day. Look out universe — here comes the Mars Generation!”

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