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“Not Withstanding a Series of Obstacles,” Kids in French Guiana Speak with Space Station


It seemed nothing was going to stand in the way of nine youngsters and their two teachers from Trois Palétuviers (Three Mangroves) School in French Guiana, South America, and their chance to speak with Astronaut Thomas Pesquet, KG5FYG, on the International Space Station via an Amateur Radio link. The Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) contact was set for March 23.

“I love talking to kids, their questions are often better than adults’ questions!” Pesquet said on his Facebook page, which has a little video that tells the story of the contact.

The small village of 180 inhabitants between the Amazonian Forest and the Oyapock River — a natural border with Brazil — Troi Palétuviers isn’t all that easy to get to. It accessible only by dugout canoe; the trip takes about an hour. At the school, there is no electricity during the day, no Internet, and only recently telephone service. The village population is exclusively Native American, many having strong ties with Brazil. The school has about 50 students in two classes.

To reach the location where the students would speak with Pesquet entailed not only the hour-long canoe trip but a 3-hour bus journey, and things did not quite go as planned. As the bus neared its destination, the passengers learned that roads to both their primary and back-up locations were blocked due to a strike. The only solution was to use a teacher’s mobile telephone. So, the students and their teachers ended up in the small kitchen of a private home.

The contact was a “telebridge,” with W6SRJ in California serving as the Earth station for NA1SS and two-way audio provided via telephone to the contact site, where the youngsters planned to ask a dozen or so questions (they had 17 ready) in French.

“Not withstanding a series of obstacles, the radio conversation between the students and astronaut Thomas Pesquet was a success,” one of the teachers said. “This was Amateur Radio at its best.”