Students chat with orbiting astronauts
By Anthony KaDarrell Thigpen Post-Tribune correspondent May 10, 2013 1:48PM
Students from Lew Wallace STEM Academy, New Tech Innovative Institute, and Frankie Woods-McCullough Academy for Girls joined students at Dr. Bernard C. Watson Academy for Boys during the Amatuer Radio on the International Space Station project on May 8, 2013. | Photo by Anthony KaDarrell Thigpen for Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 13, 2013 3:51PM
Amateur radio operators mounted a circular polarized antenna on the rooftop of Dr. Bernard C. Watson Academy for Boys in Gary on May 8, enabling nearly 50 students to talk live to astronauts orbiting the Earth.
School principal Leonard Brown welcomed a wide range of guests.
Students from Lew Wallace Stem Academy, New Tech Innovative Institute, and Frankie Woods-McCullough Academy for Girls joined schoolboys at Watson Academy during the event.
The Gary Literary Coalition partnered with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Amateur Radio Satellite Organizations Worldwide, the American Radio Relay League, Amateur Radio on the International Space Station, Methodist Hospitals and the Gary Community School Corp. to bring the experience to an urban academic setting.
“This is our first time doing this in an urban area,” said radio operator and Purdue University academic advisor Edward Perosky. He said that motivated him to participate.
According to Lake County Radio Club president Bob Wiberg, ARISS volunteers are called amateurs because they provide radio services around the globe for fun, not for money. The organization helps with communication during national catastrophes, regional disasters, and traffic nets.
Radio technology has evolved to enable amateur radio operators like Roy Gillis to conduct scheduled contacts to NASA space shuttles.
“NA1SS, NA1SS. KC9JQN calling for a scheduled contact and standing by,” Gillis repeated nearly 10 times prior to NASA commander Thomas Marshburn’s reply.
Afterward, students stepped to the microphone asking questions one-by-one.
“What does zero gravity feel like?” asked Christopher Turnage, sixth-grader at Watson Academy for Boys.
Traveling in space, 230 miles over Gary at the speed of 4.791 miles per second, Marshburn replied, “It feels wonderful.”
He said. “I feel like superman — it’s a lot of fun.”
The excitement drew the attention of Mark Lopez, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Peter Visclosky; state senators Earline Rogers and Lonnie Randolph, state Rep. Vernon Smith, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, Councilwoman Mary Brown, and school board members Rosie Washington, Nellie Moore and Robert Campbell.
Students and adult supporters listened and learned together.
“AOS is ‘acquisition of signal’,” Gillis explained. “LOS is ‘loss of signal’.”
The 11-minute adrenalin rush climaxed as the space shuttle approached from the northwest and left a digital footprint heading southeast.
With a computer configuration tracking the shuttle on big screen, Watson Academy quickly transformed into a flight communication center.
According to the Gary Literacy Coalition executive director Era Twyman, the organization sponsors “Learning Partner” mentoring programs at both, the girls and boys academy.
Students gained a priceless experience when volunteer radio operators partnered with the organization.
Questions ranged from “What is used to power the space station?” to “Have you ever failed a mission while in space?”
While Marshburn says some operations fail, the mission to inspire urban students while orbiting in space proved successful.