There were a few tense moments as nothing but static came over the airwaves.
“NA1SS, NA1SS, this is KE6 JPM Soleado Elementary on schedule,” said Peter Landon, a parent and licensed Ham radio operator, into a microphone-turned receiver in the Rancho Palos Verdes school’s auditorium.
A group of close to 60 third graders along with parents, school administrators and media crews were on the edge of their seats Monday hoping to make contact with astronauts on the International Space Station as they glided overhead.
The school was selected as one of 700 schools last year to take part in this unique program where students help build a Ham radio positioned on the roof of the auditorium to speak briefly with the astronauts while in orbit.
There’s about a 10 minute window to make contact, and it wasn’t guaranteed to work. With film cameras beaming the feed to school districts throughout the Los Angeles area and streaming over the Internet, everyone held their breath as Landon repeated the call letters.
“NA1SS, NA1SS, this is KE6 JPM Soleado Elementary on schedule,” he said.
Then faintly came the sound of astronaut Chris Hadfield’s voice as Principal Kevin Allen breathed a sigh of relief.
“KE6 JPM, this is NA1SS, we copy you loud and clear, over,” replied Hadfield from the space station.
For the volunteers that had worked so long to make this day a reality for the children, it was a success. And for a few minutes at least, Hadfield came over crystal clear.
One student asked, “How does seeing the earth from space make you feel about the future of our planet?”
Hadfield replied: “It makes me feel great and very optimistic. The world is huge and beautiful and permanent.”
Another student stepped up to the microphone and asked, “What do you hope people on earth will learn about what you are doing on the ISS right now?”
Hadfield said, “I want people to learn that if they work hard enough, things that used to be impossible can become possible.”
Afterward, Allen said he couldn’t be happier.
“I was so proud of them,” he said. “They are going to take this with them for the rest of their lives.”
Allen said the school has a science fair coming up soon and he’s excited to see how many kids are going to pick up projects related to space.
Dale Hanks and Bryant Winchell of the Palos Verdes Amateur Radio Club sat at the controls. They said members of the club spent well over 100 hours to build the radio with an antenna that actually tracked the space station as it soared past.
“We were nervous it was not going to work,” Hanks said.
Brendan Robinson, a parent at the school who initiated the idea, said bringing the program to Soleado mostly depended on the wherewithal of the local Ham radio club. Robinson, who’s an engineer at Ratheon in El Segundo, said he was interested in helping enhance science and math learning.The project will live on as future classes at Soleado plan to use the radio for communicating in other ways.
“I think they all had a lot of fun,” Robinson said.
The whole auditorium on Monday had been turned into what looked like a small NASA control room. The lights were darkened. A row of gentleman lined the controls. And a giant image of the earth projected on a screen above where the crowd could track the space station’s orbit.
“I thought it was spectacular for them to talk live with the astronaut,” said Cynthia Ramsey, a fourth grade parent. “I love that he was so cute when he would repeat their name and answer their questions.”
“It was phenomenal, just so exciting. I got goose bumps,” said Paula Persson, another parent. “Soleado’s pretty lucky to be selected. What’s more cool is my nieces and nephews were watching live on the internet. We’re a little spoiled.”
Third grader Ian Colaruotolo said the day made him more interested in space.
“It was fun,” he said. “I might want to be an astronaut.” ER