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School’s Ham Contact with Space Station Raises Amateur Radio’s Visibility in Alabama


An Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) school contact with crew member Ricky Arnold, KE5DAU, was a huge success on more than one level. Fifteen students at Pinson Valley High School in Alabama had the opportunity to chat via ham radio on April 10 in a direct contact with Arnold, who was at the helm of NA1SS for his inaugural ARISS contact.

Witnessing the event was an audience in the packed school auditorium of 650 invited guests and students, while the remainder of the 1,150 members of the student body watched the activity from their classrooms. The event was live-streamed to all 57 schools in the district .

“The ISS contact was a very valuable experience for the student body and the 15 select students that formulated and asked the questions, and great exposure for Amateur Radio!” enthused Alabaman and ARRL Southeastern Division Director Greg Sarratt, W4OZK.


The event attracted considerable media attention from TV news crews and a print reporter. The radio contact was then followed by a motivational speech from a US Navy Seal team member, after which four Navy Seals and Pinson Valley’s vice principal parachuted onto the school’s football field, Sarratt recounted.


English teacher Jennifer Moore, KF4INA, who served as the spark plug for the ARISS event, praised the support of Huntsville Amateur Radio Club members, with help from the Birmingham and Blount County Amateur Radio clubs. “My husband, who is a Life Member of the ARRL and has been licensed for about 30 years, told me that he has seen more coverage in the Birmingham area during the last few weeks mentioning Amateur Radio than he has ever seen before,” Moore told ARISS.


“After the contact, the buzz on the stage area — where the Amateur Radio station was set up and the 15 students were seated — was very high,” Sarratt said. “News reporters were interviewing several students and they were eating this up. This was great visibility for Amateur Radio!” Three TV stations posted stories on the ARISS event, WVTM, WBRC, and CBS42.


A story in the Trussville Tribune included a comment from Pinson City Council member and radio amateur Robbie Roberts, WB4WUI, who attended Pinson Valley High and went on to get an engineering degree. “I think this is something that students looking to do that in the future would certainly appreciate, and it gives you a chance to be able to see the bigger picture of what’s possible, so I think it’s great exposure for these kids,” he told the reporter.


Roberts later told ARRL, “I thought the event was excellent and was a welcome bright spot for our community. My dad called me the next day and gave me a hard time about not inviting him down to attend the event.” He said his grandfather worked for NASA for many years and was significantly involved in work on the SkyLab space station in the 1970s, “so the combination of ham radio and the ISS was of great interest to both of us.”




ISS Ham Project Coordinator Kenneth Ransom, N5VHO, commended the cooperation of Alabama Power, which resolved a RF interference issue that would have affected the contact. The utility went to the extent of shutting down a substation to quiet the radio noise so that the contact could go forward. 



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