'It was out of this world'

KAYLA BREEN/STAFF PHOTOTechnology students line up behind a microphone in preparation to ask their questions as the rest of the school waits in anticipation for the ARISS Ground Station to make contact with astronaut David Saint-Jacques on board the International Space Station during a special assembly at Moriah Central School in Port Henry.

PORT HENRY — “Oscar Romeo 4 ISS.”

“Oscar Romeo 4 ISS”.

“Oscar Romeo 4 ISS.”

Everyone held their breath in anticipation, waiting for a reply as Martin Diggens from the ARISS Ground Station in Meadow Springs, Western Australia repeated the call, “This is Victor Kilo 6 Mike Juliette in Perth calling for scheduled contact. Do you copy?”

Another pause. And then a voice cuts through the static.

“Victor Kilo 6 Mike Juliette in Perth? This is Oscar Romeo 4 ISS. I have you loud and clear.”

Moriah Central School made contact with the International Space Station.

This was what students and faculty at Moriah heard as they began a discussion using HAM radio with Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques, one of six astronauts currently on board the ISS.

This rare opportunity, however, did not come easy.

HOW IT ALL HAPPENED

The idea started almost 16 months ago when Matthew Pray, instrumental music director and educational technology adviser for Moriah’s student technology club, and Emmett Hoops, elementary school teacher and technology club coordinator, both got together as amateur radio enthusiasts and stumbled upon the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station or ARISS Program.

According to its website, the ARISS Program lets students worldwide contact the ISS and the astronauts directly through amateur radio, inspiring them to pursue careers in science and technology.

“We thought that would kind of be one of the more unusual things we’ve done at Moriah,” Hoops said.

“Then we found its one of the more unusual things to do in this country.”

Pray and Hoops immediately filed the paperwork and the long journey began. It was indeed, as Hoops said, an unusual thing to do in the country.

Out of seven schools in the country, Moriah was chosen to be given the once-in-a-lifetime chance of talking with an astronaut on board the orbiting station.

“Only a few have gotten the opportunity to do this,” Pray said.

“We’re very, very lucky.”

‘SCHEDULES HAD TO LINE UP’

The students involved knew it would be a delicate process, as life on the ISS is very busy and scheduled to the minute. This contact would also require the work of many different people and agencies, including schedulers from the NASA, ARISS and ISS, and ARISS volunteer and amateur radio moderator John Kludt, who organized the event for the school.

The event was rescheduled six different times due to conflicts on the ISS.

“A lot of different schedules had to line up to make things happen,” Pray said.

In the meantime, students passed the time waiting by writing, submitting and rehearsing questions they would eventually pose to Saint-Jacques. It was in this time that Pray realized the most rewarding experience out of this for him wasn’t going to be the contact with the astronaut, but the growth of confidence he saw in his students.

“Students were nervous behind the microphone at first,” Pray said.

“Then we practiced, and their confidence began to grow.”

All that practice was rewarded when David Saint-Jacques answered the call.

TALKING TO AN ASTRONAUT

The school held an assembly for the event, featuring grades four through 12, faculty and members from the Champlain Valley Amateur Radio Club, who donated equipment to the school to start its own amateur radio club.

The remaining grades watched a livestream from their classrooms.

Technology club students lined up on stage as they waited to approach the microphone and ask their questions.

As with most school calls to the ISS, students had roughly 10 minutes to radio chat with Saint-Jacques because of how fast the station would travel over Australia, the host ARISS Ground Station for the contact.

Eleventh-grader Lily Williams began the communication with her question, asking Saint-Jacques what’s the most amazing thing he’s seen from the space station.

“Of course, our most beautiful planet Earth,” Saint-Jacques replied enthusiastically.

“She’s glowing blue, and you can see that she’s almost breathing. It’s just a very touching sight. She is the only living thing around. Everything else is dead in space.”

Jacob Gilbert, a 10th-grader, asked about Saint-Jacques’ favorite piece of hardware that he uses in the space station and what it does.

“My spacesuit,” said Saint-Jacques.

“That’s the coolest thing we have on board, I think. It’s like a miniature spacecraft in the shape of a human body that can keep you alive in space for about eight hours. It does everything.”

Karen King, an 11th-grader, asked if he kept a journal of everything he did on board to look back at and remember in the future.

“My way of keeping a journal is to call my wife everyday and tell her about my day, and she tells me about her day,” Saint-Jacques said.

“That way we are each other’s diaries and each other’s memories.”

Taylor Brassard, also an 11th-grader, asked Saint-Jacques about the best part of working with people from different countries daily.

“It gives you an incredible personal wealth to have this knowledge from a different culture that you get from contact with people from different countries,” he said.

“That is one of the most enriching things you can have.”

LASTING MEMORIES

Although there wasn’t enough time for all questions to be answered and for Saint-Jacques to say farewell, he was able to answer 17 questions and give students at Moriah a tiny peek into the life of an astronaut on board the ISS.

Although a quick encounter, the experience overall will resonate in the lives of the students and faculty involved in the contact.

“It was out of this world, pun intended,” King said laughing.

“We’re such a small school. I feel very fortunate to have been a part of this.”

Brassard and Williams felt the same.

“It’s incredible,” said Brassard, still shocked that they were able to finally make contact.

“I didn’t think of how cool it would be until he started talking,” said Williams, thinking out loud about how Saint-Jacques and other astronauts on the ISS have to adjust to being away from their family and loved ones.

“It’s hard for us to imagine how lonely it could get (in space),” she said.

“I could tell he was excited talking with us.”

Gilbert was still smiling about having his question being answered.

“It was a lot cooler than I expected,” he said.

“We weren’t expecting that kind of experience.”

Email Kayla Breen

Kbreen@pressrepublican.com

ISS FACTS

• Travels at speeds of roughly 17,000 mph

• Orbits Earth 16 times in 24 hours

• Is one yard shy of being as long as an American football field

• Cost more than $100 billion

• Travels about 260 miles above Earth

• Continuously occupied since November 2000

• 230 individuals representing 18 countries have visited.

SEE THE VIDEO

Watch students make contact with the ISS by visiting https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nr8kPVKzU94