Ever since the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station, or ARISS, hardware was first launched aboard space shuttle Atlantis on STS-106 and transferred to the space station for use by its first crew, it has been used regularly to perform school contacts. With the help of amateur radio clubs and ham radio operators, astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the station have been speaking directly with large groups of people, showing teachers, students, parents and communities how amateur radio energizes students about science, technology and learning. The overall goal of ARISS is to get students interested in mathematics and science by allowing them to talk directly with the crews living and working aboard the station.
The ARISS conversations usually last for about 10 minutes. During that time, chosen students on the ground ask a preselected set of questions, which the crew answers from aboard the space station.
In preparation for these exchanges, students learn about the space station as well as about radio waves and how amateur radio works. Ken Ransom, project coordinator with the space station Ham Radio Program, points out the educational benefits of these communications, of which about 50 a year take place. "The ARISS program is all about inspiring and encouraging by reaching the community and providing a chance for schools to interact with local technical experts. It also brings the space program to their front door."
In order for ARISS to work, the station must pass over the Earth-bound communicators during amateur radio transmissions to relay signals between the station's ham radio and ground receivers. Other issues, such as weather and crew availability, also factor into the timing of the transmissions. During this pass, an average of 18 questions can be answered, depending on the complexity of the query. To date, the space station has held more than 600 ARISS sessions with students around the world.
The downlink audio from ARISS talks can be heard by anyone in range with basic receiving equipment; transmissions broadcast on 145.800 megahertz. Interested parties can also catch a broadcast via EchoLink and the Internet Radio Linking Project ,or IRLP, amateur radio networks or on the Internet, when available, according to Ransom.
For students who have never thought about the exploration of space, being involved in an amateur radio event such as this can be an eye-opener and pave the way for them to dare to dream and for those dreams to come true.
U.S. educators interested in participating in an ARISS communication can contact NASA's Teaching From Space Office for a proposal packet. International schools should submit applications via the ARISS Website for consideration. Submissions are due in July and January of each year.
Jessica Nimon and Camille Alleyne
International Space Station Program Science Office
NASA Johnson Space Center