Astronaut Suni Williams Working on Radio Record

If she keeps up her current pace, ISS Expedition 14 Flight Engineer Suni Williams, KD5PLB, could set a new record in the number of Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) school contacts. Since arriving on the space station in late December aboard the shuttle Discovery, Williams has logged five ARISS ham radio contacts with schools, starting the first week in January. Recently she told youngsters at Dilworth Elementary School in San Jose, California, that viewing the entire planet Earth from space is the most impressive thing she’s seen to date. She also confirmed that the lack of gravity aboard the ISS does affect the human body.

“Your muscles are used to working on the ground,” she said. “In space they have to relearn that gravity is not helping them — for example, going to the bathroom.”

Williams also advised any prospective astronauts among the kindergarten through grade five pupils to pick a career they enjoy and stay in good health. ARISS arranged the direct VHF contact January 8 between AA6W at the school and NA1SS in space.

ISS Expedition 12 Commander Bill McArthur, KC5ACR, now holds the record for the most ARISS school contacts in a single mission — 37. The Dilworth contact was the second successful school QSO on the same day for Williams, who’s indicated she’d like to speak via ham radio with as many schools as possible during her six months in space.

On January 16, Williams chatted with seventh graders from two schools in Streator, Illinois: St Anthony’s School and Northlawn Junior High School. Members of the ARRL-affiliated Starved Rock Radio Club, including club president Steven Michalski Jr, KB9UPS — who loaned his call sign for the event — set up the Earth station at the school for the direct VHF contact arranged by ARISS.

Williams answered 20 of the students’ questions during the approximately 10-minute pass. “I think the most important and interesting thing that I’ve learned is looking back at our Earth and seeing that there really are no borders between any of the countries on the land masses down there,” she told the Illinois students. “We’re all just human beings working together.”

Responding to other questions, Williams explained that the challenges of doing a spacewalk include confronting the “unfriendly environment” of space and having to work while wearing a pressurized spacesuit. On the other hand, “even moving big, heavy objects around in space is no problem, because they really don’t weigh anything.”

ARISS is an international educational outreach with US participation by ARRL, AMSAT and NASA.