Students at Farmwell Station Middle School in Ashburn got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to speak with an orbiting astronaut today thanks to some local ham radio operators.
Students filled the school’s auditorium—and others watched a live video feed at Discovery and Cedar Lane elementary schools and Broad Run High School—as members of the Loudoun Amateur Radio Group used an array of highly directional Yagi antennas placed on the school’s roof to connect with astronaut Dr. Drew Morgan on the International Space Station.
While the program took months of planning, the window for the communication was limited to about 10 minutes, as the space station raced from horizon to horizon at more than 17,000 miles per hour.
LARG members Stephen Greene, a half-century ham radio veteran, and John Dykstra, a Loudoun Valley High School student, operated the radio station while students lined up to ask Morgan as many questions as possible in the narrow communications window.
They ranged from a question about the ability to grow plants in space—with Morgan telling the students that the crew was about to harvest lettuce they’ve been growing on board—to how he controls his direction of travel during space walks, to how they monitor the long-term health impacts of weightlessness (Morgan will serve on the ISS for nine months) and what mementos of home he brought along with him.
As is customary in radio conversations, each student’s question ended with the word “over” to let Morgan know the transmission was ended.
One student asked, “Has being on the ISS changed your perspective of Earth? Over.”
“Absolutely. Right now, I am able to look out the window and see the Earth below me as I am speaking to you. Anytime I look at it I know how beautiful it is and how lucky was are to be here and we also can see the evidence of the impact we have on our planet,” Morgan said. “It emphasizes to me how important that we are good stewards of this wonderful gift, this blue marble.”
In addition to the chance to speak with an orbiting astronaut, the students also were encouraged to explore the hobby of amateur radio, both as a source of fun and a gateway to many careers in the fields of engineering, science and mathematics.
The Loudoun Amateur Radio Group frequently offers classes for students young and old to pass the test for the issuance of an FCC ham license. Learn more at k4lrg.org.