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Students Chat With Cosmonauts
Aboard Russian Space Station Mir

Amateur Radio Links Mir with Earth During Crisis in Space
Amateur radio operators aboard Mir

Russia's Mir Space Station Over Earth Cosmonauts aboard the Russian space station Mir returned in February 1998 to using amateur radio for informative chats with students in schools across the United States. The contacts had been on hold after a series of problems plagued Mir in 1997.

According to the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the national fraternity of ham radio operators, U.S. astronaut Andy Thomas, whose callsign is KD5CHF, spoke from Mir with youngsters at schools in California, Colorado, South Carolina and Wyoming in February and March.

On February 23, Thomas talked with pupils of Shell Beach Elementary School in Pismo Beach, California. The youngsters were able to ask ten questions during a ten-minute radio contact. The conversation was made possible by a connection with amateur radio station W5RRR at NASA's Johnson Space Center at Houston, Texas. The excited children had practiced performing on-the-air several times during the previous week. More than 125 other pupils and adults were on hand at the school during the contact.

On February 24, ten kids at Prairie Hills Elementary School in Colorado Springs, Colorado, got to ask Thomas six questions via the club station of the Pikes Peak Radio Amateur Association. An audience of 350 were on hand to listen in as Thomas described daily life aboard Mir. A local amateur radio repeater station retransmitted the voices so persons with scanner radios and ham equipment could hear the contact over a wide area.

On February 26, pupils at Buist Academy in Charleston, South Carolina, sent a dozen questions up to the space station. Thomas used a special Australian ham license with callsign VK5MIR to talk ten minutes through Australian amateur station VK5AGR and answer eleven questions. An audience of 50 was on hand to hear the cosmonaut tell the youngsters how important is for astronauts and cosmonauts to have radio contact with Earth to keep in touch with friends and family. About the value of international cooperation in space exploration, Thomas told the pupils outer space doesn't belong to any one country and that we must share it.

The school contacts, carried out on the 70 centimeter amateur radio frequency band, were a new experience for the pupils on Earth and for Thomas aboard Mir where the 46-year-old Australian native is scheduled to stay until June 1998. Some of the schools on the latest schedule originally had been scheduled to talk with U.S. astronaut Jerry Linenger, callsign KC5HBR, who was aboard Mir during school-Mir contacts in 1997.

Amateur Radio in human spaceflight:     Mir     SAREX     ARISS

Amateur Radio Links Mir with Earth During Crisis in Space
Information from the American Radio Relay League ARRL Letter, Vol. 16, No. 26, June 27, 1997
Additional information is available from the NASA Newsroom
Amateur radio operators aboard Mir
American Radio Relay league diamond logo
An unmanned Progress cargo ship collided with Russia's Mir space station during a docking approach in Earth orbit on June 25, 1997. For U.S. astronaut Mike Foale aboard the crippled station, ham radio provided a valuable supplement to official NASA and Russian communication systems.

Besides being a professional astronaut, Foale is an amateur radio operator with the callsign KB5UAC issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). He and his two Russian shipmates struggled to stabilize the space station in the wake of the collision.

Powered Down The crash resulted in an immediate loss of 50 percent of Mir's electrical power. The astronauts and cosmonauts had to turn off electrical power to everything they could live without, including some life-support systems. Through their hard work, Mir was back up to 70 percent of its power by the next day.

Mir is composed of several huge barrel-shaped modules attached to one another. Most of those compartments are as large as house trailers. The approaching cargo spacecraft damaged one module, known as Spektr, and sheared off half of Spektr's electricity-generating solar panel. Valuable air for breathing was lost through a hole in the damaged Spektr. As the crew sealed off the decompressed Spektr compartment, they had to cut electrical cables from three other solar panels. Without most of its supply of electricity, Mir became a darkened ship with the crew operating in a "slowdown mode" while the effects of the mishap were corrected.

The accident cut off Foale from his sleeping quarters and personal items in the Spektr module. Spektr also contained most of the U.S. experiments aboard Mir.

At the time of the accident, Mir had been orbiting in space some 200 miles above Earth for eleven years, outlasting its 1986 anticipated life span by six years. Foale had been a crew member aboard Mir since mid-May, 1997, when he had replaced U.S. astronaut Jerry Linenger who is an amateur radio operator with the FCC callsign KC5HBR.

During Linenger's four months aboard Mir early in 1997, the crew experienced a fire, a near collision with another cargo rocket, and coolant system leaks. Linenger said fire and decompression are the two most dangerous things aboard a spacecraft.

Ham Radio in Space The amateur radio gear aboard Mir is used routinely for recreational conversations with friends on the ground and for educational contacts with school children on the ground. Those uses were canceled during the crisis as Foale used the ham radio gear to talk with NASA managers and fellow astronauts on the ground, exchanging health and welfare news.

A few hours after the mishap, Foale's astronaut friends in Houston, Texas, gathered at the Johnson Space Center amateur radio station (callsign W5RRR) for a scheduled Mir overhead pass. Among them was Matt Bordelon, whose callsign is KC5BTL. He is NASA's principal scientific investigator for the space agency's Shuttle Amateur radio Experiment (SAREX).

"When we got there, it was a packed room. Ninety percent of the room was [amateur-radio] licensed astronauts," Bordelon said. "A hush fell over the room as Mir started its trek above the horizon. We didn't know if they would be on [as] power was down to 50 percent available and all non-essential equipment was turned off. Before we even had a chance to call up, Mike called down for us!"

Following a collective sigh of relief, Bordelon said astronaut Dave Leestma, whose callsign is N5WQC, took the mike and started talking. "Mike was in good spirits," Bordelon said. Several others in the room also chatted with Foale during the ten-minute contact.

Foale asked that some personal items be sent up to Mir on the next Progress supply ship being readied to carry a replacement solar panel and other supplies to Mir within three weeks. Repairs were expected to require one or two space walks by some of the Mir crew.

Foale had good news. Two of his major experiments were okay. They were in a different module, known as Priroda, where he and his two fellow cosmonauts were living until repairs could be made to the damaged Spektr compartment.

SAREX Working Group chairman and former NBC newsman Roy Neal, whose amateur radio callsign is K6DUE, said, "It's proving that ham radio, as always, is an invaluable aid to health and welfare during critical times." He added that, "Ham radio will continue providing a personal link to help Mike Foale stay in touch with his home base."

Amateur Radio in human spaceflight:     Mir     SAREX     ARISS

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