As students wiggled in their spots on the Mildred Hall School gym floor, a ham radio operator from Argentina attempted to establish contact with the International Space Station
“David, do you copy? Yankee, yankee, over,” the voice repeated as students watched the space station move rapidly across a digital map of the world, at a speed of 27,586 kilometres per hour.
The school had plans to connect to Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques Friday, with the help of radio operators from ARISS – Amateur Radio on the International Space Station. Unfortunately, the connection couldn’t happen Friday due to unknown circumstances.
A former platoon chief with the Ottawa Fire Services, Steve McFarlane from ARISS says the process of connecting with the space station is a complex one. It involves finding out where the space station is going to be at a given date and time – in this case it was Argentina – and using local amateur radio operators to connect.
“We’d prefer over Yellowknife, then we’d use our own radio equipment and we’d talk directly with the space station. But it’s not always possible. So radio stations all over the planet are used to link schools all over the planet to the space station,” he says. “It’s quite an elaborate, complex network. Anything could throw it all off and today we got thrown off. It happens once in a while, it does not happen often.”
McFarlane says it is a big deal to bring ARISS volunteers to Yellowknife and other schools, as the volunteers take time off work and rely on sponsors like First Air and the schools themselves. It is also a big deal for the astronauts and crew on the space station, to make this connection work.
“David has to go from where he’s working. In this case, today, he went to the Russian module. And it’s quite a challenge to move around the space station, they’re weightless and they actually take some time and every moment is justified and accounted for.”
Ava, 7, says she was going to ask a question about whether Saint-Jacques finds time for fun at the space station. The question was: “Do you constantly work up there? Do you do anything for fun? If so, what? Over.”
She says she will be asking the question the next time the ARISS volunteers are back, which could be as early as a few weeks from now McFarlane says.
“We’ll be back and we will make it work,” he says. “Maybe we’ll up the ante,” he added, as the space station now owes ARISS one.