“If you’re ready, I’m going to pass the microphone to the first student. It’s over,” a radio amateur from Italy told NASA astronaut Josh Cassada in English. Cassada, already floating in the microgravity of low-Earth orbit, radio transmitter in hand prepared: “I hear you loud and clear, and I’m ready for more questions. It’s over.”
The International Space Station, a football-field-sized observatory orbiting Earth at an altitude of about 400 kilometers, began its flyby over the Atlantic Ocean. Dozens of students from eight academic centers in the Caribbean and Central America waited with excitement and nervousness for the moment they could start a conversation with an astronaut who would answer their questions live. Students selected the questions with special care. They rehearsed for months, changing the time it would take to do them in English.
After Italy’s signal, student Raul from Panama started the event: “What is the International Space Station? Change”.
The communication on November 23, 2022 took place within the framework of an amateur radio program on the International Space Station (ARISS). ARISS gives students around the world the opportunity to ask questions directly to an astronaut in orbit while learning the fundamental technical concepts of amateur radio operations.
During these types of events, there may be scientific studies and technical briefings on the station, possible Earth observations from the station’s low-Earth orbit, and questions about the lives of the astronauts who live and work there. .
During the contact with Cassada, students had the opportunity to learn about the study and monitoring of natural disasters, seen from the station’s unique perspective: from hurricanes and volcanic eruptions, to tsunamis and coastal erosion.
“What could be more inspiring than talking to an astronaut who is currently in space? It makes it more tangible, human and intimate,” says Ana Guzman, a digital communications specialist who helps coordinate ARISS events from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
The education program, which began in 2000, has already connected more than 250,000 participants to the space station and helped inspire a new generation of scientists and engineers with more than a hundred crew members. Since the first ARISS contact, questions have been asked in more than a dozen languages, including Spanish. He First contact with students in Venezuela It was done in Spanish by Joe Agaba, a NASA astronaut of Puerto Rican descent and today the head of the Astronaut Office.
“ARISS helps educators use an engaging and fun tool to capture students’ imaginations by sparking interest in learning more about technology, engineering and math. [STEM, por sus siglas en inglés]Guzman says. “In an increasingly digital world, working hand-in-hand with amateur radio and related technology gives students a more dynamic opportunity to learn about these topics.”
An astronaut in the classroom
During a contact, the astronaut becomes the teacher for a few minutes, and students on the ground can learn firsthand everything that happens on the largest satellite ever built by mankind. “In space research, manufacturing, and development of new technologies in low Earth orbit will be common in the future. Microgravity provides a unique environment that laboratories on the ground cannot provide. “Laboratories on the station can unravel mysteries, solve problems and provide new discoveries that can benefit humanity on Earth,” explains Guzmán. “It’s important that students are aware of those possibilities and the opportunities they can offer.”
They can learn all this through a truly memorable conversation.
“When he said, ‘We’ve passed St. Lucia,’ it was like an astronaut saw us!” says Nadia Joseph-Bisset, a geography professor at St. Mary’s College on the Caribbean island. Joseph-Bisset, one of the coordinators of the contact with Cassada in 2022, recalled the students’ cheers when the NASA astronaut told them he had seen Saint Lucia moments earlier. What also stood out from the excitement and adrenaline filled event was how the classmates encouraged the selected student to ask the astronaut a question. “I was so excited; I am going to represent the school,” says the teacher.
Joseph-Bisset said it was a “very rewarding experience” and that the event inspired many students to take an interest in science and technology and space. “I enjoyed learning about it and helping the students learn as well.”
As a geography and environmental educator, she says the station’s exposure reminds her of the importance of diversity of viewpoints. “Now I’m incorporating a lot more aerial photos, especially if it’s a hurricane or human activity, and I’m showing some of the phenomena we’re learning about,” he explained. “The different perspective put things in context and helped us understand the severity of climate change.”
“It takes months of preparation for a fast-paced and unforgettable experience, but it’s worth it when the educators and mentors see the smiles on all the students’ faces,” concludes Guzman.
A telebridge from Argentina
Like the space station, amateur radio represents multinational cooperation between different organizations to achieve a common goal. Communication with astronauts is made possible by several international partners who support the ARISS program in collaboration with NASA: ROSCOSMOS State Space Corporation, the Canadian Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and the European Space Agency.
Thanks to radio amateurs around the world who not only guide the students they communicate with but also make it possible by creating an invisible bridge between the station and the students.
Luis Funes is a retired rural school teacher in Neuquén, Argentina, a radio amateur for nearly three decades and an ARISS volunteer for over 15 years. Funes, who now lives in San Luis province, is one of two ARISS radio amateurs operating a telebridge station in South America (his call sign is LU8YY). A telebridge is a station that can communicate with itself, communicate with the station by radio and connect it by telephone with the educational center in question. “My goal is to ensure that all South American countries have at least one ARISS connection,” says Argentina. Funes is also the vice president of AMSAT Argentina, a non-profit civil association dedicated to the study of satellite communications.
In 2022, Funes promotes and collaborates with other companies to the space station and Provincial School No. of Esperanza Base, Argentina’s science station in Antarctica. Organized a liaison between the students of 38 This was the first contact between the station and the Antarctic continent. “It was an amazing event, really emotional,” the 73-year-old radio amateur recalled. “My eyes filled with tears; Every interaction excites me because even though I have already experienced it, I live it with the same intensity as them.
For this interaction with NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, the moderator was an Argentine ARISS guide based in Italy; The telebridge station was in Belgium. The event moderator communicates with the astronaut on board and tells them when to ask the student a question. Communications can only be made when the station is flying above where the telebridge station is located, and due to its speed, each call lasts an average of 10 minutes.
“Teamwork is fundamental: If things don’t work together, they don’t work,” says Funes, who has participated in more than a dozen interactions.
At every event, the education center is decorated like a party. Students usually prepare space-related decorations and invite family and friends to participate. For the Esperanza site, members after the event honored the children with a parade on snowmobiles dressed as astronauts, Funes says.
“This is a wonderful opportunity, because it goes through children to teachers, from teachers, parents of parents, other relatives, friends”, says the radio amateur. “They will never forget this connection, this dream of talking to an astronaut in space in orbit around Earth.”
By Noelia Gonzalez
Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland