ISS Commander Chats With Students

International Space Station Expedition 12 Commander Bill McArthur, KC5ACR, really enjoys being an astronaut. But he told students at Sanderson High School in Texas December 8 that, although he’s been an astronaut for a while now and really enjoys it, he really hasn’t spent all that much of his career in space.

“I’ve been an astronaut for 15 years now, and this is only the fourth time I’ve flown in space,” McArthur told the students via the space station’s NA1SS. “So it’s a great job, but there’s much more to it than just being in space.”

But being in space and navigating by floating around in microgravity is “just really neat” he told another questioner. Still, being part of a two-person crew for six months aboard the ISS does put astronauts on the spot, McArthur explained in another reply.

“We’re under a lot of pressure to be able to complete our work up here,” McArthur said. “It’s so expensive to send people into space that we want to be successful at everything we do.” He went on to say that being away from their families for so long also is a source of stress for the ISS crew, although he noted that the crew members can stay in daily touch with their families via telephone and e-mail.

Down the road, he said–perhaps as soon as next year–ISS crews may again consist of three people and perhaps, eventually, as many as six. The ISS has been limited to two-person crews while the shuttle fleet remains grounded.

Despite the downsides of long-term space travel, McArthur made it clear that he loves being aboard the ISS. “I love it in space, if it wasn’t for the fact that my family was on the ground I would never want to leave,” he said.

Ten high schoolers took part in the event, and Sanderson math teacher Amy Carman, KD5HYB, served as the control operator for the nearly 10-minute direct VHF contact. In all, McArthur answered 18 of the students’ questions. Before the contact, the students got to see a videotape of a recent space walk and discussed it in their science classes.

Four members of the Big Bend Amateur Radio Club provided and set up all the equipment needed to make the contact a reality. An audience of approximately 25 students, teachers, parents, local dignitaries and others looked on, and reporters from four newspapers covered the ARISS contact.

On December 15, students at Mt Carmel High School in San Diego, California, had the opportunity to interview McArthur via Amateur Radio. Replying to one question, McArthur said most movie portrayals about life in space have not been very accurate because they don’t capture what it’s like to work in microgravity. He also said the astronauts and cosmonauts themselves are the most important research subjects. “We ourselves are the experiments,” he said.

McArthur told the California high schoolers that the danger of meteorite damage to the ISS is low, although he said the ISS has encountered them. “They have, fortunately, been very, very small and never penetrated the skin of the vehicle,” he pointed out. “There is a certain amount of ‘space dust,’ so we see it more in erosion or in delicate equipment like our solar panels.”

Students yelled “Thank you!” to McArthur as the ISS went out of radio range.

The direct VHF contact between KG6EQU and NA1SS ran about six and one-half minutes. Both school group contacts were arranged by the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) program. ARISS is an educational outreach, with US participation by ARRL, AMSAT and NASA.

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