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Calling the Caribbean from the International Space Station
08.12.11
 
Participants in the Caribbean Youth Science Forum Participants in the Caribbean Youth Science Forum with Michael Green, third from right (back row), deputy director of operations at Trinidad and Tobago Amateur Radio League, and Camille Alleyne, second right (back row).
(Image courtesy of Trinidad Express Newspapers/Ishmael Salandy)
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The display and microphone of the Kenwood TM-D700 radio system used by the crew for Amateur Radio on the International Space Station The image above shows the display and microphone of the Kenwood TM-D700 radio system used by the crew for Amateur Radio on the International Space Station, or ARISS, communications. (NASA Image)
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Close to 300 students in the Caribbean got a very long distance call from the International Space Station on Monday, Aug. 8, 2011. Crew members aboard the station used the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station, or ARISS, to make contact with their eager audience on the ground. The goal was to inspire students and educators via an interactive space experience. This was the first ARISS communication for the Caribbean region.

The ARISS conversations usually last about 10 minutes. During that time, chosen students on the ground ask questions, which the crew answers from the space station. Questions during the Caribbean contact ranged from how space travel affects human health and how the space station was powered and maneuvered to concerns about space debris. Students also wanted to know what it was like to be an astronaut, asking about the most difficult aspects of the job.

Students prepared by learning about the space station, radio waves and how amateur radio works, as well as proposing questions to ask the crew. Ken Ransom, project coordinator with the International Space Station Ham Radio Program, points out the educational benefits of the approximately 50 conversations that take place every year. "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, factor into the timing. During each pass, astronauts answer an average of 18 questions, depending on their complexity. To date, space station residents have participated in more than 600 ARISS communications 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 MHz. Interested parties can also catch a broadcast via EchoLink and IRLP amateur radio networks or on the Internet, when available, according to Ransom.

Camille Alleyne, assistant program scientist with the International Space Station Program Science Office at Johnson Space Center, attended the ARISS communication session while representing NASA at the Caribbean Youth Science Forum held in Trinidad and Tobago. Participating nations included Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Barbados, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Dominica. "These island nations have never been involved in any space-related activities before. This was likely a life changing for innumerable students," commented Alleyne.

U.S. educators interested in participating in an ARISS communication can contact NASA's Teaching From Space 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.



 
 
by Jessica Nimon
International Space Station Program Science Office
NASA's Johnson Space Center