By Pat Ciarrocchi and Paul Kurtz
HOLLAND, Pa., (CBS) — With a fancy antenna, at least four science teachers, Ham radio technology and sheer determination, students at Council Rock High School South in Holland, Bucks County reached out and touched someone, far, far away. Two hundred twenty-four miles ABOVE the earth — not across it.
The classroom came to life Thursday as students placed a call to the International Space Station.
Ten science and technology students were given the opportunity to ask astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti one question each as the ISS passed directly overhead at 1:18 p.m.
Teachers Fred Bauman and Jerry Fetter say they were waking with a window of about eight minutes.
“They came above the horizon they were probably somewhere over Georgia and when they set they were over Nova Scotia. They came over us at about 275 miles travelling at 17,100 mph.”
The scratchy sound of a two-radio tuning in echoed through the auditorium at Council Rock South. This was a day months in the making.
For student Tom Hyndman, “Honestly, it’s just so cool and interesting.”
At an altitude 224 miles, and at a speed of 17, 500 miles an hour, Italian astronaut, Samantha Cristoforetti, answered a call from Council Rock, from the International Space Station.
“How do you read me???” You could hear through the crackle.
“We read you loud and clear,” said science teacher Jerry Fetter.
Fetter, Jeff Warmkessel and a team of school colleagues, with education connections to NASA, came up with an out of this world idea. While the International Space Station is hurtling above Pennsylvania, why not call an astronaut?
Of course, a cell signal wouldn’t reach. So Fetter engaged a team of eager Ham Radio operators to get the job done. They jumped without much coaxing.
“We’re taking an antenna and aiming at them and they have a small antenna on the space station and we’re having a contact,” said long time ham operator, Irwin Darack.
The mode of communication, ham radio, provided another lesson for students steeped in the ways of Skype, text messaging and social media.
“It’s just amazing to see how technology from years ago mashed with technology today to produce such an organic and cool experience.”
Katie Kotsopoulos lined up with other student interviewers to ask about 20 questions. “My question was how does the 90 minute orbit affect how they work,” said Katie.
The answer? “Not so much,” said Astronaut Cristoforetti, the first Italian woman in space. “We work on a regular 24 hour clock. We just go by our watches. ”
When questioned about managing weightlessness? “You have to find a way to secure yourself, otherwise you float away when you try to work.”
The event is part of a program called ARISS — Amateur Radio and the International Space Station. They went with ham radio because it never fails – still the most reliable form of communication.
Katie said the experience blew her mind.
“When you’re talking to someone who is not currently standing on the planet and they’re in space, it’s just fantastic.”
That’s the reaction that Fetter was eager to hear.
“Students today are used to using their cell phones and modern technology to see them get inspired by something that has been used over the decades has been encouraging to me.”
Science student Tom Hyndman is now thinking about giving aerospace a whirl.
“It’s amazing to see that technology used years ago matched with technology today produced such an organic and cool experience for everybody really.”
Very cool, indeed.