Local students reach for the stars via amateur radio

By: Maria Allard | Warren Weekly | Published March 26, 2014

 Wayne State University physics professor Claude Pruneau speaks about meteoroid impacts on Earth after students in the Warren Consolidated Schools Macomb Mathematics Science Technology Center and the Middle School Mathematics Science Technology Center made contact with astronaut Koichi Wakata at the International Space Station via amateur radio.

Wayne State University physics professor Claude Pruneau speaks about meteoroid impacts on Earth after students in the Warren Consolidated Schools Macomb Mathematics Science Technology Center and the Middle School Mathematics Science Technology Center made contact with astronaut Koichi Wakata at the International Space Station via amateur radio.

Photo by Deb Jacques

WARREN — From space, astronaut Koichi Wakata said Earth looks like an oasis. He said all astronauts undergo emergency medical training as a precaution before blasting off, and astronauts generally eat fish, noodles and rice when in orbit.

During the early morning hours of March 14, students at the Warren Consolidated Schools Mathematics Science Technology Center and the Middle School Mathematics Science Technology Center participated in an Amateur Radio on the International Space Station, or ARISS, contact. The school programs are held inside the Butcher Educational Center.

The ARISS program is a joint partnership with NASA, the American Radio Relay League, the Radio Amateur Satellite Corp. and other international space agencies.

The ARISS experience allowed the students to communicate with Wakata from the school cafeteria, transmitting all the way to the International Space Station via amateur radio. Although the students could not see Wakata, they were able to hear him and could spot his location on a map.

The brief conversation between Wakata and the students took hours of planning,  and was made possible with help from the Hazel Park Amateur Radio Club. The members brought several pieces of equipment with them to the school to make the contact possible.

“I convinced the club to take this on as a project,” said club 2nd Vice President Larry Koziel, whose call sign is K8MU.

According to Warren Con officials, the school was among 25 nationwide selected for a 10-minute direct radio contact with the ISS. About 22 students lined up to each ask a question of the astronaut, and each question was listed on a large screen. Sixth-grader Abby Bolley was up first.

“With astronauts from different countries, which language do you use to communicate with each other?” she asked.

“We use English and Russian,” Wakata said. “These are the international languages at the space station.”

Another question centered on what happens when a space traveler drops an object in a zero-gravity environment.

“It does not fall,” Wakata said, which makes it “very difficult to find it.”

The students couldn’t hide their giggles when Wakata told them the device they use the most in space is a vacuum cleaner. Returning to Earth does take some adjustment.

“After we land on the ground it takes a few days to get used to the ground,” Wakata said.

According to Wakata’s bio, provided by school officials, he was born in 1963 in Saitama, Japan, attended Kyushu University, and is the first Japanese astronaut to command the ISS.

“Thank you very much for the wonderful questions,” Wakata said before signing off. “Have a good day.”

“It was a great opportunity to have. It’s not like you can just call on a cellphone,”  senior Conner Roach said. “It’s so hard to contact them. There is so much that goes into doing it.”

“It was very fun,” said senior Logan Holtz, who also asked the astronaut a question. “I was very calm. I didn’t think I would be.”

The event continued with a presentation from Wayne State University physics professor Claude Pruneau, who spoke about meteoroid impacts on Earth. McKenna Podolak was recognized as the winner of the event’s local T-shirt design competition for the middle school level, and Najah Mubashira won for the high school level. Katlyn Johns was the winner of the MMSTC Web page logo design.

Sixth-grade teacher Tuyen Duddles and engineering and technology teacher Mark Supal wrote the ARISS proposal to speak to the ISS via amateur radio, which was submitted to NASA in September.

“We wanted to tie in the concept of radio communication and space exploration to our curriculum in high school and middle school,” Duddles said.

Once school officials were notified in December that the proposal had been accepted, the assistance of the Hazel Park Amateur Radio Club was sought.

“We’re hoping to perhaps start an amateur radio club so students can make contacts around the world,” Duddles said.

ARISS mentor Steve Michalski, of Toldeo, Ohio, said the organization participates with 24 schools per year. Not every contact is successful. Sometimes there are technical difficulties and other issues that arise, but the March 14 contact was a success.

“This turned out to be a fantastic team,” Michalski said. “We’ve been working on this for several weeks.” 

Through amateur radio, Michalski has made contact with people all over the world.

“We talk about anything but politics and religion,” he said.

Much of the conversations are about weather, radio equipment and their families.

Students attend class at the Mathematics Science Technology Center and the Middle School Mathematics Science Technology Center part of the day, then return to their neighborhood middle school or high school the rest of the day.

For further information on the Hazel Park Amateur Radio Club, visit www.hparc.org.