Space Station talks to School Students

US astronauts Don Pettit, KD5MDT, and Ken Bowersox, KD5JBP, handled separate Amateur Radio on the International Space Station school QSOs March 26. In the morning (UTC), Pettit answered 20 questions put to him by students at Japan’s Higashi Kaneko Junior High School.

Later that day, Bowersox, the Expedition 6 crew commander, did the same for the Selnica Primary School in Slovenia, where the control operator asked the questions. The second contact marked the first ARISS QSO involving a school in Slovenia.

“During the course of our mission, we will celebrate two birthdays in space,” Pettit informed one of the students in Japan who had asked if the crew had planned any parties in space. “We have already celebrated the birthday of our commander, and in April, we will be celebrating my birthday.” Actually, Bowersox turned 46 last November 14, just before the crew launched on its journey to the ISS. Pettit will be 48 on April 20. Pettit told the students that he was just 12 when he decided to become an astronaut.

Pettit said he would be able to see Japan from space but there are no windows in the Service Module, where the NA1SS ham gear is located. Pettit said he spends his free time mostly doing science projects and catching up on his notes on his computer.

The aurora borealis–the northern lights–is quite a sight when viewed from space, Pettit said. “The northern aurora is most beautiful!” he exclaimed. “It reminds me of a glowing cloud in the sky. I can’t think of any other natural event that is more beautiful than aurora.” Seventeen students participated in the contact from 8N1ISS.

Students at the Selnica Primary School in Slovenia enjoyed listening in on an evening space chat with Bowersox during which they could also see the spacecraft passing overhead. The ARISS QSO was a public event, with a local Boy Scout club station, S59TTT, set up in a camping trailer in the schoolyard. Scoutmaster Ivan Dobnik, S51DI, doubled as control operator and quizmaster.

Bowersox said the most beautiful views from space are during the nighttime portion of the space stations’s orbit– when the crew can see the stars–and at times of sunrise and sunset. Bowersox–who’s known by his nickname “Sox” within the Astronaut Corps–said he sleeps very well in microgravity. “It’s almost like having the perfect bed,” he declared. He also was asked if any of the other astronauts snore. “I sleep so well, I’ve never heard never heard anyone snore here,” he said.

Bowersox said he really enjoyed the food aboard the ISS, but with such a beautiful view out the window, “the food doesn’t matter so much.” The crew is growing some bean plants and some herbs as part of its scientific research, he explained in reply to another query.

Questions regarding personal hygiene have become more common. The contact with Slovenia included one about shaving in space. “The actual process of shaving doesn’t feel that great,” Bowersox said, adding that it’s good to have a clean face. He also told those gathered in Slovenia that he expects construction of the remainder of the ISS to continue, although he noted that NASA is re-evaluating those plans at present.

Some 130 schoolchildren, parents, teachers, the city mayor and several radio amateurs turned out for the occasion.

ARISS is an international program with support from ARRL, NASA and AMSAT.