The International Space Station (ISS) is located some 200 miles above the planet Earth, which makes the astronauts not the typical overseas workers, who can be contacted with a mere long-distance call any time one desires. However, members of the public do not have to be space experts to contact the ISS. As long as a ham radio is available, as well as the license to operate it, reaching the space research center may be possible.
On Aug. 6, the BBC reported that a man named Adrian Lane from Gloucetershire, England was able to contact the ISS and chat with a US astronaut for about 45 seconds using a ham radio. The timing was perfect as the astronaut also has a ham radio, just like the one being used here on Earth to chat on public frequencies. "It's not very unusual," said Kyle Herring, a spokesman at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. The technology is actually being used by students when conducting interviews with the space crew. The communication of the astronauts and the people via ham radio does not interfere with the system that the experts used between them. Successfully getting through is just a matter of knowing how and when to attempt contact.
Owning a radio is the first step but actually using it will require one to obtain one or multiple licenses before transmitting messages on the available lines. For example, listening to messages being transmitted on the ham radio does not necessitate a license in England; however, sending a message may not be performed unless the required examination has successfully been accomplished. In the US, ham radio owners need to obtain three different licenses in order to use their devices.
After getting the appropriate licenses, the selection of frequencies come next. Individuals may look at the website of the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station via ARISS.org. Several space agencies and amateur radio groups comprise the ARISS.
ISS orbits around the Earth continuously. If one plans to exchange messages with the astronauts on the ISS via the ham radio, waiting for the space station to pass directly above is the best way to go, says Gizmondo. The schedule of when the ISS will pass by in a particular location may be determined through NASA's Spot the Station webpage.
As astronauts also have their sleeping and resting hours, knowing the time of the ISS passage in a specific area may not guarantee that one can contact an astronaut. According to the ARISS, the space explorers are typically awake from 7:30 UTC and 19:30 UTC and most likely available for a chat one hour after waking and before dozing off.
Another thing that must be remembered is the fact that not all astronauts own a ham radio. Out of the two NASA astronauts aboard the ISS, only Kjell N. Lindgren, who arrived at the station in July, has a ham radio license.
Photo: Tom Lee | Flickr