Amateur Radio Club Connects Miami Students With Space Station

Jan 15, 2015

A student asks a question of European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoferretti while Dade Radio Club of Miami president Miguel Garate looks on.
Credit John O'Connor / WLRN

At first, the kids in the auditorium at Richmond Heights Middle School weren’t sure a they'd hear a voice above the ear-burning static.

Dade Radio Club of Miami president Miguel Garate kept signaling the space station.  

“NA1SS, NA1SS, this is Richmond Heights. Over,” Garate said repeatedly, trying to hail the space station.

They had just minutes before astronaut Samantha Cristoferretti would be out of range.

A voice cut through the white noise.

“This is November Alpha One, I-S-S. I read you three by five,” Cristoferretti said.

Student after student stepped up to the microphone. They asked about life in low-gravity. How plants adjust to space. Whether Cristoferetti feels claustrophobic in the space station.

Nine minutes later Cristoferretti was swallowed by the static again.

But Garate and his amateur radio pals celebrated like NASA’s Mission Control after a successful touchdown. Big smiles. High fives.

The amateur radio club has been planning the astronaut chat for a year. They were at the school until after 10 p.m. Wednesday setting up and testing an antenna.

“This is our first contact," Garate said. "I only became a ham [amateur radio operator] in 2010... and I’m telling you, this is the biggest experience we’ve had so far.”