Ground control

Dan Kern (center, with microphone), president of the Park County Radio Club, sets up the communication channel with the International Space Station. Students from around Park County had the opportunity to ask astronaut Tyler N. Hague questions, using ham radio to communicate with the astronaut. Alex Dunlap, a second grader from Bailey (standing left) readies his question for the astronaut. (Photo by Kelly Kirkpatrick/The Flume)

Park County students of all ages immensely enjoyed chatting with a NASA astronaut Monday in a jam-packed gymnasium at South Park High School.

For clarity’s sake, the students were located in the high school gymnasium. The astronaut, Tyler N. Hague, was traveling at 17,150 miles per hour, or five miles per second, aboard the International Space Station.

Hague and his five international crewmembers had a fleeting window of about 12 minutes to speak with the students before losing radio contact on the other side of the Earth. During a 15- to 20-minute period, the students tracked the 357-foot vessel as it traveled from the general vicinity of Hawaii to somewhere northeast of the Great Lakes.

More than a dozen enthusiastic students, ranging from third to eighth grades and hailing from Fairplay, Guffey, Bailey and surrounding areas, rapidly fired a myriad of well-constructed questions at Hague by radio. The students took turns communicating with Hague under the direction of Dan Kern, president of the Park County Radio Club and Amateur Radio Emergency Services coordinator for Park County.

The highly educational and entertaining event was made possible through the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station program, and funded by Friends of the Library groups in Park County, as well as a grant from The Summit Foundation.

“I met Pat Shepard, who teaches science, technology, engineering and math classes, and asked her if she would like to teach her students about radios, space and astronomy and give them a chance to talk to an astronaut,” Kern explained.

“She said yes, handled all of the necessary application processes with NASA, which needed to be filed by an educator, and then she began teaching the material in STEM classes in preparation for this event. Overall, about two hundred kids were exposed to the classes.

“The STEM classes included the International Phonetic Alphabet, radio etiquette, how radios and antennas work, how our ionosphere works with our radio signals, how radio waves travel into space, and how the International Space Station operates and what types of experiments are conducted by its crew.

“There have been countless educational benefits for the students involved, but beyond that, there is just a huge amount of excitement here today, as you might imagine. The whole experience has been tremendously gratifying.”

Considerable effort was expended on the part of many people to expose Park County students to the ARISS program and to arrange for their presence at the event. The entire student body at Guffey Community Charter School, for example, was transported via carpools to South Park High School to witness and take part in the radio chat.

Conversely, students made the most of their opportunities by asking Hague questions regarding whatever happened to pique their curiosity.

A Guffey third-grader quizzed Hague about whether his digestive system got messed up while living in a place with no gravity, while a Fairplay third-grader inquired about sleep habits when orbiting the earth about every 90 minutes and seeing 16 sunsets and sunrises in the course of a 24-hour period.

Judging by his answers, it obviously wasn’t Hague’s first radio rodeo. The Kansas native and Air Force Academy graduate fielded each question with ease, earning credibility and winning favor with the students as the interview progressed.

Grace, a junior high student from Guffey, asked Hague if his appetite was bigger when in space. Hague answered by saying that he actually had less of an appetite when in space and that he sometimes had to force himself to eat.

“That was really fun talking to an astronaut,” Grace said. “That was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I learned a lot.”

Prior to contacting the International Space Station, Kern made plans for what he likely anticipated would be an abrupt ending to the conversation with Hague.

“In international space language, seventy-three is the term used to say goodbye and wish someone a good day,” Kern explained to the audience.

When the signal started to crackle and the astronaut’s voice began to fade, Kern thanked Hague for his time and prompted those in attendance to bid a fond farewell from South Park in its newly acquired international space language.

The capacity crowd, young and old alike, roared in perfect unison with a heartfelt “Seventy-three.” Hague’s voice suddenly receded back into space and an eerie silence fell upon the gymnasium.

Within seconds, however, the noise level returned to a low crescendo of excited chatter and collective awe. After all, it’s not every day that a group of Park County kids casually converse with an astronaut storming through space at more than twenty-two times the speed of sound.

International Space Station fun facts courtesy of Wikipedia:

• 230 individuals from 18 countries have visited the International Space Station.

• The space station has been continuously occupied since November 2000.

• An international crew of six people live and work while traveling at a speed of five miles per second, orbiting Earth about every 90 minutes.

• In 24 hours, the space station makes 16 orbits of Earth, traveling through 16 sunrises and sunsets.

• Peggy Whitson set the record for spending the most total time living and working in space at 665 days on Sept. 2, 2017.

• The acre of solar panels that power the station means sometimes you can look up in the sky at dawn or dusk and see the spaceship flying over your home, even if you live in a big city. Find sighting opportunities at http://spotthestation.nasa.gov.

• The living and working space in the station is larger than a six-bedroom house (and has six sleeping quarters, two bathrooms, a gym, and a 360-degree view bay window).

• To mitigate the loss of muscle and bone mass in the human body in microgravity, the astronauts work out at least two hours a day.

• Astronauts and cosmonauts have conducted more than 205 spacewalks (and counting!) for space station construction, maintenance and repair since December 1998.

• The solar array wingspan (240 feet) is about the same length as the world’s largest passenger aircraft, the Airbus A380.

• The large modules and other pieces of the station were delivered on 42 assembly flights, 37 on the U.S. space shuttles and five on Russian Proton/Soyuz rockets.

• The space station is 357 feet end-to-end, one yard shy of the full length of an American football field including the end zones.

• Eight miles of wire connects the electrical power system aboard the space station.

• The 55-foot robotic Canadarm2 has seven different joints and two end-effectors, or hands, and is used to move entire modules, deploy science experiments and even transport spacewalking astronauts.

• Six spaceships can be connected to the space station at once.

• A spacecraft can arrive at the space station as soon as six hours after launching from Earth.

• Four different cargo spacecraft deliver science, cargo and supplies: Orbital ATK’s Cygnus, SpaceX’s Dragon, JAXA’s HTV, and the Russian Progress.

• Through Expedition 52, the microgravity laboratory has hosted more than 2,400 research investigations from researchers in more than 103 countries.

• The station’s orbital path takes it over 90 percent of the Earth’s population, with astronauts taking millions of images of the planet below. Check them out at https://eol.jsc.nasa.gov.

• More than 20 different research payloads can be hosted outside the station at once, including Earth sensing equipment, materials science payloads, particle physics experiments like the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-02 and more.

• The space station travels a distance equivalent to the Moon and back in about a day.

• The Water Recovery System reduces crew dependence on water delivered by a cargo spacecraft by 65 percent – from about 1 gallon a day to a third of a gallon.

• On-orbit software monitors approximately 350,000 sensors, ensuring station and crew health and safety.

• The space station has an internal pressurized volume equal that of a Boeing 747.

• More than 50 computers control the systems on the space station.

• More than 3 million lines of software code on the ground support more than 2.3 million lines of flight software code.

• In the International Space Station’s U.S. segment alone, more than 1.5 million lines of flight software code run on 44 computers communicating via 100 data networks transferring 400,000 signals (e.g., pressure or temperature measurements, valve positions, etc.).

International Space Station size and mass

• Pressurized Module Length: 240 feet (73 meters).

• Truss Length: 357.5 feet (109 meters).

• Solar Array Length: 239.4 feet (73 meters).

• Mass: 925,335 pounds (419,725 kilograms).

• Habitable Volume: 13,696 cubic feet (388 cubic meters) not including visiting vehicles.

• Pressurized Volume: 32,333 cubic feet (916 cubic meters).

• With BEAM expanded: 32,898 cubic feet (932 cubic meters).

• Power Generation: 8 solar arrays provide 75 to 90 kilowatts of power.

• Lines of Computer Code: approximately 2.3 million.

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