Ramona Amateur Radio Club Connects Elementary Students to Space Station Astronaut



Ramona’s amateur radio operators spent more than a year preparing to successfully connect students at Ramona Lutheran Christian School to an astronaut on the International Space Station as she circled the Earth at 17,000 mph .

Communications between 15 students and astronaut Christopher Cassidy lasted only 8 minutes, but all the students had time to introduce themselves and ask Cassidy, also captain of the US Navy and SEAL, at least one question. each.

Questions ranged from what it’s like to sleep in space, what games are played in space and what are the favorite foods to eat on the International Space Station, to more serious questions about how the The experience changed the view of astronaut life and how people can use space to help manage waste disposal issues on Earth.

Ramona Lutheran Christian School was one of nine schools in the United States selected to establish direct communications with space station astronauts via amateur radio in October. Kelly Cammarano, Navy veteran and Lutheran teacher from Ramona, applied and, after being accepted, led the school activity.

Cammarano learned of the opportunity when she applied to the American Radio Relay League’s Teachers Institute on Wireless Technology in 2019, then later received a grant of $ 1,600 for the equipment of the radio station of the organization. The third and fourth grade teacher, who typically runs the school’s robotics, radio, and STEM clubs for grades three to six, said she only had a few weeks to write. educational proposal and obtaining donations of equipment components from the Ramona Outback. Amateur Radio Society (ROARS) to meet the deadline.

“I didn’t think we would be chosen, but we were selected from the start and I was delighted,” said Cammarano, a member of ROARS for three years.

Students were fortunate enough to use a variety of radios to train with ROARS members and received an ICOM IC-9700 transceiver from the American Radio Relay League to build a satellite communication radio station. on their campus.

Behind the scenes, members of ROARS made the October 14 conversations possible by mentoring students, acquiring equipment, and coordinating activity with the International Space Station program’s amateur radio, also known as of ARISS.

ROARS President Steve Stipp said he hopes the communications from the astronauts will help spark interest in the club and enable it to recruit more members.

“The kids brought tears to my eyes,” Stipp said. “Seeing the kids and their excitement was amazing. The whole school was excited.

The third-year Roman Pope asked Cassidy if he thought people his age could visit space in their lifetime, even if they didn’t become astronauts.

Cassidy’s Response: Visiting outer space in the future will be similar to taking an international flight and it is very likely that he and his friends will have the opportunity to visit space.

Roman, who loves science and wants to someday be an astronaut “so that he can float in space”, called the experience “super cool”.

“I didn’t even know what was going on in my head at the time,” said the 8-year-old. “It was super exciting.”

Her mother, Lacy Pope, was there to watch.

“I was so proud and emotionally touched when Chris Cassidy answered Roman’s question,” she said, noting that parents and grandparents in the room were probably more in awe of the technology. than the students.

“It was very amazing,” she said. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. Watching your child talk to an astronaut as he looked down on us was an amazing experience.

Pope said she was impressed that a small school in Ramona was one of the few schools selected for the activity, especially since it was the first school to be connected to a astronaut since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

NASA usually communicates with the space station via a telephone bridge, but ROARS had to install its own emergency communications equipment inside a trailer with a 40-foot tower and antennas at the top, Stipp said. The ROARS station was solar powered and set up in the school parking lot on 16th Street the night before.

“The only cable between our station was an Internet cable used to transmit the video to other classrooms so that other students could watch it,” he said. “I am so proud of our ROARS club, they did a great job.”

Nine members of the ROARS club led the operation while Cammarano organized the students by asking quick questions.

Among the other questions to the astronaut: What was the first thing he wanted to eat on his return to Earth? The answer: homemade chocolate chip cookies. He also responded to a question that he was doing better than the Terrans because there was no COVID-19 on the space station, Stipp recalled.

ROARS President Steve Stipp, left, and Membership President John German helped the students communicate with an astronaut in space.

(Julie Gallant)

John German, chairman of the ROARS members, said everyone in the class applauded when they first contacted Cassidy, much like the NASA mission control team does when they come to visit. connects with space explorers. It was not an easy task, he said, as they followed the space station moving through the sky at a speed of 17,000 miles per hour.

“At 9:26 am we made the first contact with Chris Cassidy and by 10:26 am we were demolished and gone home,” said German, noting that the ROARS members are good at quick set-ups and takedowns. “We can get to a location for emergency communications and be on air within 30 minutes. “

Preparing for the event required several trials and additional training sessions to contact the satellites in space from the school, according to Stipp. Several ROARS members have written a program to track orbital satellites carrying amateur radio equipment so that radio operators can point their antennae at the satellite and talk to people around the world, he said.

During a training session at school, members of ROARS were able to speak to someone in Guadalajara, Mexico, via satellite. Stipp and Cammarano also participated in Zoom planning sessions with representatives from the Amateur Radio program of the International Space Station. ARISS promotes learning opportunities as part of its STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) initiative.

Cammarano said engaging with the astronaut sparked students’ interest in subjects she already teaches them, such as robotics, programming and Morse code.

They are excited to learn STEM subjects, she said. And even second graders are able to do computer coding, which will be essential in the future.

“They are definitely interested in getting their amateur radio license and pursuing the technology in general,” Cammarano said. “This generation will be very tech-savvy. “

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