At 12:43 EDT on Friday, May 6, the International Space Station (ISS) came over the north east horizon traveling at 17,500 mph.  US Astronaut Jeff Williams came over the mic on the amateur radio station to call All Saints Academy near Newport, Rhode Island.  The ARISS program (Amateur Radio on the ISS) has scheduled over 1,000 such contacts since the first back in 2000.  The waiting list is over a year long, but Harrisburg Academy is taking steps to be added to the list.

As a licensed amateur radio operator, N3JQ, I had set up an amateur radio in front of the Academy so we could hear this conversation between earth and space.  Dr. Newman was also eager to hear the broadcast, and Mrs. Klemunes brought her Middle School science class outside to have a chance to help with the equipment.

Using an amateur radio walkie-talkie, we all listened as astronaut Jeff Williams established contact with the Rhode Island school, and then the students started asking questions during the 10 minute fly-by window of radio contact.

The Rhode Island All Saints Academy students asked questions like, “How do you cut your hair and nails?”  The answer?  Flight Engineer Williams explained the need for a vacuum hose to capture loose hair and nails.

“Could a goldfish live on the ISS?”

“Yes, fish have been on the ISS, but they don’t live long, due to the harshness of the environment and the difficulty getting oxygen into their water.”

As the ISS headed out over the Atlantic Ocean beyond Bermuda, the signal at Harrisburg Academy faded, but the tracking rooftop antennas in Rhode Island allowed the last five questions to still be asked.  Harrisburg Academy listeners used a LiveStream of the event to listen to the final questions and the sign-off between the school and the ISS.

Here at the Academy, we have integrated amateur radio theory into the study of electromagnetism curriculum in the 10th grade physics class.  Recently, eight students have passed their Technician Class Amateur Radio License test.  The computer randomly gives the next alphabetic call sign to newly licensed amateur radio operators, and it was a fortuitous coincidence that the letters “HA” appear in all of these student call signs.  The call sign for the Harrisburg Academy Amateur Radio Club is N3HAC.

A Middle School club has also been formed at the Academy that teaches students to try to contact people both locally and world-wide using amateur radio equipment.  Some of these students are working together being licensed, as well, and have made contact with places as far as Jamaica, California, South Africa, and Australia.