Astronaut Don Pettit, KD5MDT, Chats with ARRL
NASA Astronaut Don Pettit, KD5MDT, sat down with ARRL News Editor S. Khrystyne Keane, K1SFA, on Thursday, July 12, for an exclusive interview about ham radio and life on the International Space Station (ISS). Pettit returned from the ISS on July 1 where he served as part of Expedition 31, spending 193 days in space. He first ventured into space in 2002 on the space shuttle Endeavour as part of Expedition 6, logging more than 161 days in space. In 2008, he was a part of the crew on STS-126, also on Endeavor. Pettit holds the distinction of spending 370 days in space, placing him fourth among US space fliers for the longest time in space.
Scroll down to see a video of the interview.
K1SFA: Good morning, Dr Pettit. My name is Khrystyne Keane, K1SFA. I am with the ARRL, the national association for Amateur Radio. How are you today?
KD5MDT: I am fine! I’m KD5MDT.
K1SFA: I know you’ve had an Amateur Radio license for about 12 years, since November 2000. Why did you originally get your ticket?
KD5MDT: I got my ticket a bit late. I’ve actually been interested in ham radio ever since I was a little kid and one of our neighbors in Silverton, Oregon was a ham who worked with amateur astronomy. I would go over to his house and he would let me talk to other astronomers around the United States. I thought, “Wow, this is really a neat thing to be able to do.” But I didn’t get my ham radio license until I came to NASA and it was obvious that it was something that would be good to have when you were orbiting Earth.
K1SFA: You’ve been quite active on the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) program, making a total of 25 school contacts, with 13 of these contacts on your last mission. As an astronaut, do you feel the ARISS program encourages young people to consider careers in the STEM (science, math, engineering and technology) fields?
KD5MDT: I hope so. You know, you can wind students up and point them in the direction you think is good for them to go, but then you just have to let them move off and see what they do with their lives. That’s one of the delightful things about working with students. You can show them what you think is the way and maybe some of them will follow and some will go off in a different direction.
K1SFA: I know students who are involved with an ARISS contact are given a set of questions that they can ask, such as “What is it like the first time without gravity?” and “How do you go to the bathroom in space?” What is the most unexpected question that you ever received from an ARISS contact?
KD5MDT: One of the best questions I ever received from a student -- and this is sort of the opposite question of “What do you miss most from Earth when you are in space?” because you get asked that question a lot -- was “What will you miss most from space when you return to Earth?”
K1SFA: And how did you answer that?
KD5MDT: Oh, it actually caught me by surprise! I had not really thought about that before. My answer then -- which is still my answer now -- is the ability to fly. Weightlessness offers you the capability to fly through the air with the greatest of ease. You can’t do that here on Earth!
K1SFA: What kind of radio equipment is on the ISS? How does it differ from Earth-based communications? Do you need different power settings or different safety regulations?
KD5MDT: Actually, the ham radio equipment we have on the station -- we have two different sets -- they’re standard commercial sets that have been modified a little bit with power connections and things that commensurate with getting power feeds from the space station. But the basic sets themselves are standard ham radio sets that you can have here on Earth.
K1SFA: Do you have any plans to make Amateur Radio contacts now that you’re back here on Earth?
KD5MDT: I do have a handheld transceiver that I like to use after work and on the weekends. We have a number of repeaters around in the NASA area here in Houston, and from that, you can ping and go quite a distance, considering that you’re using a handheld! I enjoy jabbering on that every so often.
K1SFA: I have a 12 year old son who’s really in to Angry Birds, so you probably know where this question is going. Have you received a lot of positive feedback on your trajectory experiments using the Angry Birds on the International Space Station?
KD5MDT: I have! To me, the best feedback I can get is not “Describe the equation for the trajectory of this.” I mean, that’s neat when you get that kind of feedback, but just to make kids aware that what’s going on around them [is the best kind of feedback]. There’s physics, there’s math, there’s science happening all around them. If you think about it, something amazing might come to your mind that will tickle your imagination and enrich your life. That’s the whole idea -- not that this particular pastime involves the magic of math and science, but that it’s all around us and all you have to do is open your eyes and there’s this whole delightful world, just out there to explore.
K1SFA: Thank you so much Dr Pettit. I appreciate you spending some time with me this morning. 73!
KD5MDT: Thank you.