Provided by Prince William County Schools (PWCS)
Antietam Elementary School students talked with Commander Chris Cassidy through Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) in the first-ever virtual multipoint telebridge. Six students asked Cassidy questions during the short time frame that was allotted for the event.
Throughout the school year, ARISS assists with connecting schools to the crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Normally, at a school site, students would gather in one room to participate. A licensed amateur radio operator would set-up equipment at the school that would connect students to the ISS at a scheduled time. However, this year, with the closure of schools, ARISS found a way to add the element of connecting students virtually from their homes. The solution was building a multipoint telebridge.
Antietam Elementary Gifted Education Teacher Kathy Lamont is also a member of the ARISS education and executive committee. Lamont volunteered Antietam students to take part in the first multipoint telebridge with the ISS.
The People who Made it Work
From their homes, each student dialed into a conference call and logged into ARISS’s newly created YouTube channel. From his home in Rhode Island, Steve Rys was the master control of the live YouTube feed, which included a graphic depiction tracking the location of the ISS. The channel also served as a way to share informational videos with students about ARISS and the technology used to conduct space chats with the ISS.
John Kludt, based at his home in Atlanta, served as the program moderator. Kludt kept tabs on the ISS, shared information. He introduced Fred Kemmerer, the radio operator responsible for making contact with the ISS. Kemmerer used his 40-foot antenna at his home in New Hampshire to contact Cassidy aboard the ISS. Rys shared a live video feed of the ISS as it started flying over Canada.
The students and volunteers were excited as the time drew closer to begin contact with the ISS, which would only be in range of Kemmerer’s radio signal for about 10 minutes.
“November Alpha One Sierra Sierra this is Alpha Bravo One Oscar Charlie, any copy?” Kemmerer called out.
After several attempts, Kemmerer switched from his primary channel, then to his back-up channel and back to his primary channel. Five minutes had passed before Kemmerer called his contact at NASA in Huntsville, Alabama. Cassidy was having technical difficulties with the radio on board the ISS. Determined to have a successful space chat for the Antietam students, Kemmerer continued to call and finally made contact.
Miles, a second-grader, was the first to ask Cassidy a question. “What does the sun look like from outer space?” He can barely be heard through the teleconference connection. Kemmerer asked Miles to repeat the question and the audio was still hard to understand.
Cassidy, who had a list of the questions, volunteered to answer them. In response to Miles he said, ”Good question, Miles. The sun is the same exact appearance that we see on Earth. It’s the same size and the same intensity, although we don’t have the protection of the atmosphere, so it’s very, very bright for us.”
Cassidy continues with the next question, which is from Henry, a kindergartner, who asked, “How comfortable is it to sleep in space?” The astronaut explained that they float inside sleeping bags tied to a wall and once they get used to not having a pillow, it’s very comfortable.
Kemmerer asked Cassidy to stand by, then asked Catherine, a kindergartener, for her question. Despite some static, Cassidy heard the question. Two more student questions were heard, which Cassidy answered before the ISS moved out of the range of Kemmerer’s antenna.
A Learning Experience
Lamont was excited to provide this opportunity for students.
“I love being able to connect students to real activities and real careers. Anything that gets students more aware of their surroundings and shows them that they are a part of the much larger community is key,” she shared.
Check out the video to hear Antietam students making history by talking to an astronaut aboard the ISS from their homes. ARISS has also shared the full program on their YouTube channel.