Space talk: Students radio station commander

Denis Campbell tells students from Holy Family Catholic School about setting up a ham radio connection Friday with crew members on the International Space Station. A dozen eighth-graders had an opportunity to speak with the station commander.

The crackle of a human voice emanating from a man-made structure whirling around the earth at more than 17,000 mph cut through the sounds of 400 schoolchildren at the Holy Family Catholic School gym on Friday morning.

The voice, that of Col. Douglas Wheelock, commander of the International Space Station, was calling out for “Whiskey zero yankee hotel,” the call sign for the amateur radio station at Holy Family, the second school in Colorado to have the chance to speak with people aboard the space station.

Eyes widened and bodies leaned forward as the students tried to make out what Wheelock was saying as the station passed over western Colorado.

A dozen students, all eighth-graders, waited for the opportunity to click the microphone on their end and speak to Wheelock as he and the space station whizzed across North America, 192 nautical miles above.

The questions were submitted by students from throughout the school, submitted to NASA and returned to the dozen students who were chosen to ask them as a result of their performance in the schools amateur radio program.

“I expected it to be a little scratchy,” MiKealy Thomas said afterward.

The students listened to tapes of conversations with the space station to prepare themselves for the background noise.

“It was clearer than I thought it would be,” Nicole Troester said.

The window for the conversation with the space station commander was small, not even 10 minutes, and it was made smaller because of technical difficulties.

That left Jalen Dalla disappointed that he didn’t have the chance to ask his question: “What’s the strangest thing that has happened to you in space?”

“It might have been a pretty interesting answer,” Dalla said.


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