Students make space contact

(Video by Deborah Pfeiffer)

From somewhere way above Italy, astronaut Chris Hadfield communicated  with South Okanagan  school children on Friday.

The effort took place as part of the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station, ARISS, program.  ARISS Canada hopes to establish more than 15 radio contacts with the astronaut and young Canadians during Expedition 34/35.

“This is taking to the next level, the communication  we teach them every day in reading and writing,” said Lisa Edwards, principal at Uplands Elementary School in Penticton, where the event took place.

Hadfield, the first Canadian to walk in space, has flown two space shuttle missions. He has been on board the International Space Station since the end of 2012.

The bringing together of the CSA astronaut and students via ham radio in Penticton was orchestrated by a group with an interest in ham radios, space and education.

Patrica Tribe, a co-chair of the event, said she was initially contacted by Brian Edge, a ham radio operator who asked if she would put together a program to contact the International Space Station using a radio.

Edwards was receptive to the idea. On Friday it culminated with about 500 people, including area elementary school children and local dignitaries, gathering in the Uplands gymnasium to make contact with Hadfield.

Following introductions, where students were given an explanation of who Hadfield is and what he does, students were treated to a video of the astronaut jamming with Barenaked Ladies’ Ed Robertson .

The contact was then made with an Italian ham operator, who made the connection with Hadfield as the space station was above Italy.

Students, who spent time leading up to Friday doing space-oriented  projects in the classroom, listened carefully as their peers asked a series of questions.

Among them, how long have you been a ham radio operator and how did you get started?;  when you play the guitar does the weightless environment change the sound?; I’m wondering if you have ever failed at a mission? and  do you miss hearing the birds sing?.

In response to the question about failure, Hadfield said he had  studied and prepared his whole life, so he has never failed at any important things.

As far as missing birds, a friend is making a recording of birds to send to him, he said.

Mark Andrews, a 9-year-old Uplands students,  admitted to being a little worried about asking a question.

“It’s something I’ve never really done,” he said. “So I was nervous and excited at the same time. But it is something I was looking forward to, so I’m glad it happened.”

Madison Boerner, 8, said she was glad the day had finally arrived.

“We have been practicing our questions really hard and doing a really hard job working on this,” she said.

Sophie Brooke, 8, said she was pretty excited that Hadfield was actually answering questions.  Although she was a little lower on the list and expected an email response, rather than live.

“This is so important that I will put it in my scrapbook,” she said.

As for Edge, who got the ball rolling on the event, he was thrilled to see it unfold as planned.

It’s the highlight of my ham radio career in that I was able to share it it with so many young people and inspire them to study hard and reach for their dreams, so maybe they too will be astronauts one day,” he said.

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