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Former NASA Astronaut Visits Missouri School as Kids Talk via Ham Radio with the ISS


Former NASA astronaut Linda Godwin, N5RAX, was on hand March 5 as youngsters at Rock Bridge Elementary School in Columbia, Missouri, spoke with NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins, KF5LJG, aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) program sponsored the contact. Hopkins, a native of Missouri who returned to Earth on March 10, was at the helm of NA1SS on the space station. On the ground, members of the Central Missouri Radio Association (CMRA), managed the technical aspects of bridging the gap between school and spacecraft. Once the contact got underway shortly before 8 AM, 13 pupils chosen through a random drawing posed two questions apiece to Hopkins from a prepared list.

“It’s great to be talking with folks in my home state of Missouri,” Hopkins greeted the gathering as contact was made and signal reports exchanged. Youngsters peppered him with questions on a wide array of space travel topics. “Zero gravity feels awesome!” he told the kids, although he conceded that it was “weird” at first. He said that viewing Earth from space was “humbling” as well as “incredible to see.” He also explained some of the negative impact that living in microgravity can have on the human body over time, and he said that prior to going into space, the astronauts get to try and rate all food items on a scale of 1 to 10.

“The students understood that the ISS would be in range for less than 10 minutes,” said the CMRA’s Bill McFarland, N0AXZ, who played “the astronaut” during a pre-contact practice session. Also helping with the contact were club members Don Moore, KM0R — who loaned his call sign to the enterprise and served as control operator — Myron Kern, W0ZH, and Justin Yesis, KL0VU. They had been preparing for the event over the previous 6 months and provided the radio gear, rotators, antennas, mounting equipment, computers, and tracking software, as well as everything in between. The club also worked with NASA. Audio of the contact was piped into the school’s public address system, so that the entire school could listen in on the 55 minute educational program built around the Amateur Radio contact.

After the pass, the elementary schoolers spent the next 35 minutes quizzing Godwin, also a Missouri native who has four space shuttle missions and some space walks to her credit. She retired in 2010 and now is a professor of physics at the University of Missouri-Columbia,

Spearheading the entire project was Loretta Schouten, president of the Rock Bridge Elementary School’s PTA. “She had the idea, presented the request to the CMRA, attended many of our club meetings, and coordinated everything from the school to NASA applications and documentation, local officials and the media,” McFarland said. “And she is now studying for her Tech license!” The contact attracted coverage by the Columbia Daily Tribune newspaper.

ARISS lets students worldwide experience the excitement of talking directly with crew members of the International Space Station, inspiring them to pursue interests in careers in science, technology, engineering and math, and engaging them with radio science technology through amateur radio. Contact ARRL ARISS Program Manager Debra Johnson, K1DMJ, if your school, local museum or other educational organization is interested in participating in a scheduled ARISS contact during the fall 2014/spring 2015 period. An educational plan describing the learning activities to be provided for the students leading up to and following the contact is necessary. There is more information about the ARISS program on the ARRL website.

ARISS is an international educational outreach with participation from ARRL, NASA, ESA, the Russian Space Agency (ROSCOSMOS), CNES, JAXA, CSA, and AMSAT. — Thanks to Bill McFarland, N0AXZ,Columbia Public Schools, and ARISS 




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