No Lollies on Space Station, Commander Tells Youngsters in Space QSO
International Space Station Expedition 12 Commander Bill McArthur, KC5ACR, this month educated and inspired youngsters in Florida and the Australian outback during separate Amateur Radio contacts. McArthur spoke from NA1SS with youngsters attending Collier County, Florida, public schools on February 8, and at the Charleville Cosmos Centre in Queensland on February 17. The Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) program arranged both events. Students at Florida's Pine Ridge and Immokalee middle schools posed several questions on the subject of robotics aboard the ISS, and McArthur discussed use of the space station's robotic arm, Canadarm 2.
Chris Jones - VK2ZDD
"We use the robotic arm only occasionally onboard the ISS," McArthur explained. "It's used to either relocate people or equipment on the outside, which happens only occasionally. Also, we will sometimes use the cameras installed on the robotic arm to do video surveys of the exterior of the station."
McArthur told the students that it took extensive training to learn how to properly manipulate the Canadarm 2. He said it's used mostly to move equipment and cargo that's too large for the astronauts to handle during space walks.
In response to another question and later as a parting shot, McArthur offered some words of inspiration and encouragement to anyone contemplating a career as an astronaut. "Do not be afraid to follow your dreams," he advised. "Reach high, because even if you fall a little bit short you will have accomplished so much more than if you're afraid to even try."
Members of the Amateur Radio Association of Southwest Florida (ARASWF) set up and operated the equipment necessary for the direct VHF contact between NA1SS and K4YHB at Pine Ridge Middle School, a NASA Explorer School. Coordinating Teacher Sharon Lea, who once met McArthur, took a moment at the end of the QSO to express gratitude on behalf of the schools for making the contact possible. "This was a wonderful experience for us all," she said.
Some 150 school officials, teachers, parents and students were on hand, and two TV stations, a local radio station and the Naples Daily News reported on the space contact. The Pine Ridge NASA Explorer team and the ARASWF spent nine months preparing for the ARISS QSO and related educational activities.
Nine days later, youngsters attending the Charleville School of Distance Education gathered at the Cosmos Centre in the Australian outback to hook up with McArthur via ham radio and a Verizon Conferencing teleconferencing link from WH6PN at Sacred Hearts Academy in Honolulu to the Queensland facility.
McArthur told the students that he's been an astronaut for 15 years, and his duty tour aboard the ISS marked his fourth flight into space. "Prior to this, my longest mission was 14 days--two weeks," McArthur responded to one question, noting that he enjoyed being in space very much. "This one will be a little more than a half-year, and, to me, it's the difference between visiting a wonderful place and living there."
Looking ahead to longer-duration space flights, one student wanted to know how long it would take to get to Mars. "It would take somewhere between six and nine months depending on the technology used and also depending on how the planets are aligned," McArthur replied.
"Do you eat chocolate bars and lollies?" another student wanted to know. "Well, we have no lollies," McArthur answered, "but that's only because Valeri and I didn't ask for them. Yes, we do have chocolate bars, chocolate candy, other candy, and if a crew wanted lollies they could ask for them, and they would have them up here."
Beyond that, McArthur said, the cuisine aboard the ISS largely consisted of foods familiar on Earth, although all meals come already prepared and usually dehydrated.
The school waited nearly two years for its contact to be scheduled, and just 12 hours before the event a thunderstorm knocked out telephone service throughout the town. Earth station operator and ARISS veteran Tony Hutchison, VK5ZAI, said a repair crew managed to get the telephone system back up with only two hours to spare.
National TV and radio and local media joined the audience on hand to report on the contact. The Charleville Cosmos Center is an observatory in outback Queensland some 800 km west of Brisbane.
ARISS is an international educational outreach with US participation from ARRL, AMSAT and NASA.
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