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ARISS Celebrates International Education Week


With all the educational opportunities the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station program (ARISS) provides, it's no wonder that the organization has captured the attention of the US Department of Education (DOEd). According to ARRL ARISS Program Manager Rosalie White, K1STO, the DOEd has been tracking ARISS's activities for a long time: "The Department of Education invited ARISS to help celebrate the ninth annual International Education Week (IEW) by coordinating three contacts with the International Space Station (ISS) during IEW, November 17-21. How could we say no?" International Education Week is a joint initiative of the US Department of Education and US Department of State.

To go along with the theme of this year's IEW -- International Education: Fostering Global Responsibility and Leadership -- White explained that the Department of Education requested ARISS's participation through NASA. "Late last spring, JoAnne Livingston from the Department of Education asked NASA if the ARISS Team could support an ARISS radio contact in conjunction with IEW. The trick for the ARISS Team was to have a successful QSO that tied together three school communities from spots all over the globe into one 10 minute radio contact."

Early in the Game

The DOEd took the initiative of selecting three schools to participate in the contact. Eventually, Enloe Magnet High School in Raleigh, North Carolina, Poolesville High School in Poolesville, Maryland and Academia Cotopaxi, an all-grade school in Quito, Ecuador, were chosen as the three participating schools.

ARISS Volunteer Will Marchant, KC6ROL, led the ARISS Team by studying parameters such as orbital mechanics, the ISS crew's sleep schedule, orbiter burns, space walks and ARISS ground station availability. He also figured out school schedules to better coordinate when students would be available to make the QSO. "Because of orbital mechanics," White said, "the radio contact was slated for Friday, November 14 at 15:02 UTC as the 'curtain opener' for IEW."

To get these schools ready for their QSO, White looked over the ARRL Affiliated Club roster, searching for clubs to help out the selected schools. "I invited the Raleigh Amateur Radio Association to help support the Enloe Magnet High School. The Goddard Amateur Radio Club, which has many ARISS volunteers, agreed to assist the Poolesville High School." With the help of ARRL Membership and Volunteer Programs Manager Dave Patton, NN1N, White searched for active Ecuadorian hams to assist with the contact with the school there.

"As with all ARISS radio contacts, more educational activities are expected from the schools beyond sponsoring an exciting, real-time interview of an astronaut during a 10 minute pass of the International Space Station," White explained. "In September, students at the three schools performed online activities focusing on Amateur Radio. These activities come from a module developed for the NASA Digital Learning Network. Students took part in space-related classroom activities and the hands-on Amateur Radio lessons."

The Headliner for the Three Schools

Mere days before the IEW QSO, students and teachers from all three schools took part in a practice ARISS QSO. To add to the international flavor for ARISS, Steve McFarlane, VE3TBD, stepped up to the plate to serve as ARISS Mentor for the practice session and for the ARISS QSO itself.

"The ARISS QSO is always the headliner for all ARISS activities," White said. "The QSO, via WH6PN, the ARISS telebridge station in Hawaii, allowed students to interview astronaut Mike Fincke, KE5AIT, the current ISS commander. As community leaders and school administrators watched, the radio contact occurred without a hitch, with students walking on air as the day ended. In addition to attracting the eyes and ears of educational organizations, three TV stations were on hand at the Poolesville school to tell their ARISS/IEW story."

Jeff Wittich, AC4ZO, and Gary Pearce, KN4AQ, said Raleigh Amateur Radio Society members who mentored the Raleigh school gave talks to the students about how ham radio and the ARISS system worked; they also explained how satellite and ISS Amateur Radio contacts work regarding orbital passes. "We focused on the ham radio fact that this was a line-of-sight radio contact, and from 200 miles up, the International Space Station was line-of-sight to the Earth station for less than 10 minutes," Pearce said.

But Wait -- There's More!

White said that due to the IEW, the three school communities got an education treat: "On November 18, students from all three schools tied in to a videoconference activity held at the US Department of Education auditorium. Students asked questions round-robin style to a panel of experts from around the world. The panel was made up of astronaut Don Thomas, KC5FVF; ARISS Chairman Frank Bauer, KA3HDO, and other ARISS worldwide volunteers and science leaders. Top-level staff from the Departments of Education and State, as well as representatives from educational associations such as the Sally Ride Science Club and the head of NASA Education watched the proceedings."

Each panel member gave a short presentation and participated in a question and answer session with all students. Aside from an overview of ARISS, panelists spoke about unusual ARISS events that have happened in their countries, space exploration and what ham radio activities are popular in their countries. According to White, they also interjected a little of the cultural flavor from their parts of the globe.

ARISS team members on the panel included:

  •  Steve McFarlane, VE3TBD, from Canada discussed ARISS schools in remote Canadian locations.

  •  Peter Kofler, IN3GHZ, from Italy who teaches and has mentored numerous ARISS European schools.

  •  Dick Flagg, AH6NM, and Nancy Rocheleau, WH6PN, who have handled telebridge ground station operations since 1990 and SAREX days, and helped develop Radio Jove, student-built radio kits that to receive radio signals from Jupiter.

  •  Michael Chen, BD5RV/4, from China who mentored the first ARISS school contact in China.

  •  Ciaran Morgan, M0XTD, from England led an ARISS QSO with Richard Garriott, W5KWQ.

  •  Fernando Casanova, EC1AME, from Spain became an ARISS volunteer just prior to the Garriott mission.

Casanova said that he will never forget his experience on the panel: "Sometimes in life you do things that are difficult to forget. This panel experience was one of them, at least for me. All of us did our best, and all of us enjoyed it. Thanks for the experience, and until next time when you may need us… 73 from Spain."

Three Special Schools

Casanova is not the only one who will always remember his part in the IEW project -- students from the three schools and their lead teachers will not forget their IEW 2008 experiences, either. Mark Curran, head of Poolesville High School's Science, Math and Computer Program, said his computer students are developing skills for programming a rover to investigate an imaginary planet (Planet Falconia, named for the school mascot). The Research and Engineering Class designed and constructed the rover to successfully navigate hazards, sense differences in surface temperature and recognize boundaries. The Earth Systems Science Class studied planetary geology and remote sensing applications for Planet Falconia. "Through ARISS," Curran said, "students gained insight into daily challenges faced by current astronauts and the importance of the communication efforts including ham radio. Students realized the need to be able to communicate well in both written and spoken languages, addressing the English and foreign language aspects of the curriculum."

Enloe Magnet High School teacher Samuel Wheeler developed special lessons for 11th and 12th grade students in his AP Physics, Honors Physics and Physical Science classes. Enloe is currently ranked 73rd in Newsweek's list of the top 100 United States high schools. Enloe students have exchanged communications with high schools in China, Germany and Turkey through videoconferencing.

Kathy Beahn at the Academia Cotopaxi in Quito, Ecuador, led the effort for pre-kindergarten through 12th grades. Recommended by the US Embassy in Quito for the ARISS QSO, the school teaches an American curriculum. According to White, space-related and ARISS studies were integrated into the Conceptual Physics Course for 11th and 12th grade students, and students in grades 2, 7 and 8 also took part in the ARISS radio contact. "We began the year learning about waves in general, including basics about the electromagnetic spectrum," Beahn said. "This helped students understand ham radio technology. We studied planetary motion and astrophysics topics including special relativity and black holes." Alfredo Caviedes, HC1HC, helped out with the QSO and Rick Dorsch, NE8Z -- a Michigan ham who has been to Quito many times and is friends with Caviedes -- provided translating assistance.

Final Outcomes

"It was a thrill to listen to students in Maryland, North Carolina, and Ecuador connect with Mike Fincke on the International Space Station during the ARISS contact," said Kelly McCormick of the Johnson Space Center: "Listening in, we could feel the excitement of the students as the ham radio operators around the world came together to facilitate the connection. A female operator in Hawaii made the call to the ISS and we heard the crackle and pop of the airwaves give way to Mike Fincke's voice. International Education Week was off to a fantastic start!"

White said that the Department of Education was so impressed with ARISS and with what students learned before, during and after the contacts that ARISS has been invited to participate in next year's International Education Week. IEW 2009 is scheduled for November 16-20.

According to the IEW Web site, International Education Week is an opportunity to celebrate the benefits of international education and exchange worldwide. This joint initiative of the US Department of State and the US Department of Education is part of the efforts to promote programs that prepare Americans for a global environment and attract future leaders from abroad to study, learn and exchange experiences in the United States. To meet the challenges of our global world, all nations must work to develop future leaders who possess an open-minded, comprehensive worldview. IEW is a time to celebrate our efforts to prepare students for success in the global community and the promise of student exchange in training the next generation of leaders. All Americans are urged to learn more about the world beyond our borders, and encourage students to experience other cultures firsthand.



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