Students Make Amateur Radio Contact with an Astronaut

Student and adult using amateur radio On Thursday, May 2, more than 860 students and guests from across Guilford County gathered at McNair Elementary and hundreds more watched live on television and the Web as Guilford County Schools (GCS) made an amateur radio contact with astronaut Tom Marshburn on the International Space Station. GCS was selected by NASA to make a direct contact with the space station as it flew over McNair Elementary, which is in its first year as a new school and was named for former astronaut and North Carolina A&T graduate Ronald McNair.

Sixteen out of the 20 students who were selected to ask questions were able to speak with Marshburn during the approximately 10-minute radio contact. They asked questions such as if astronauts believe in aliens, how emergencies are handled in space, how zero gravity affects dreams and the most interesting thing astronauts see while in space. These students' questions were selected from more than 2,740 originally suggested by students at 35 schools.

Members of the Greensboro Amateur Radio Association provided expertise in setting up the radio connection. Additionally, RF Micro Devices, a local corporation that specializes in the design and manufacture of radio frequency (RF) solutions for mobile devices and communication equipment, generously donated the amateur radio equipment and loaned GCS a sophisticated antenna that was used to make a direct contact with the International Space Station as it passed about 250 miles over the school.

Teachers prepared students for the radio contact by including lessons on space, astronomy, NASA and the International Space Station in their subject curriculum using a guide of suggested educational resources put together by GCS.

The contact was intended to expose students to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in a fun and meaningful way, and inspire students to explore these subjects in the future. The skills needed to use amateur radio as a communication tool are applicable to a variety of technical careers, including engineering, emergency management services, aviation, nanotechnology, telecommunication and electrical trades, all careers that GCS students could pursue one day.

This event was coordinated through the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) program, a cooperative venture of NASA, the American Radio Relay League, the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation and other international space agencies that schedule radio contacts between astronauts and schools. The ARISS radio contact is one in a series of educational activities organized by Teaching From Space, a NASA Education office dedicated to improving STEM teaching and learning using the unique environment of human spaceflight.

GCSTV broadcasted the event live, and hundreds of students, teachers and community members watched on television and online.