ISS Contact

Many of the hams at Vienna Wireless set up an amateur radio contact with astronaut Suni Williams on board the International Space Station.

The contact was arranged through ARISS and took place at Virginia Run Elementary School in Centreville, Virginia.

Pete/KG4OJT, Iain/KI4HLV, Corky/AF4PM, Phil/A4JF, Tom/N4ZPT, John/AF4PD and others I’m sure I’m leaving out (sorry!) did a lot of work setting up two redundant stations and testing to ensure things would work properly.

Here is a video that was created by Phil Wherry of the event:

The whole school assembled in the gym, along with Bob Ryan from Channel 4 News and a couple of NASA astronauts and others. Thirteen students would ask questions to Suni and she would respond. She had already been sent the questions so that she could prepare answers since the ISS pass was only going to be 10 minutes long.

Finally, the moment we were waiting for arrived. Pete/KG4OJT called, “NA1SS, NA1SS this is K4HTA.” On his second call, we heard Suni call, “Kilo Four Hotel Tango Alpha, this is November Alpha One Sierra Sierra”. Success! Or so we thought.

We then began three minutes of both sides calling the other. It was clear than Suni wasn’t hearing us, though we tried both radios. The problem seemed likely to be at her end, though it could have been as simple as having the volume turned down on her radio (It’s happened to me!). Or she could have been listening on the wrong frequency (we were transmitting on one frequency and listening on another). Whatever the cause, suddenly she could hear us. We now had seven minutes to get thirteen questions asked and answered. Suni did a marvelous job of getting through and on her final answer we could hear her begin to disappear into the noise as the ISS went below the horizon.

It was really great to see everyone’s hard work pay off and even have just enough “excitement” to make everyone realize just how easy it is for things to go wrong. Now I know how the Apollo 13 mission control crew felt when they were calling for Apollo 13 after re-entry and not getting a response. And, thankfully, we didn’t have anyone’s life at risk!

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