International Space Station contact is a success

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Esai Macario, an Anacapa senior and Ken Owen, N6KTH participated in a dry run shortly before the space station was scheduled to pass over Southern California.

On May 22, 2013, Anacapa School students had a chance to speak with NASA Astronaut and former Navy SEAL Christopher J. Cassidy via a live Amateur Radio link to the International Space Station (ISS) (Astronaut Chris Cassidy’s NASA Bio). The 10-minute Q&A session with NA1SS went off without a hitch at the hilltop campus of QAD, Inc. Video of the event was streamed live online on the school’s Web site.

The arrangement was made possible by Anacapa School’s participation in the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) Teaching From Space program, a cooperative venture between NASA, the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation (AMSAT) and other international space agencies that coordinates scheduled radio contacts between astronauts aboard the ISS and schools.

I applied to ARISS on behalf of Anacapa School in June of 2012, citing the two-year track record of the Anacapa Near Space Exploration Club (ANSEC) for integrating Amateur Radio technology and innovative STEM education initiatives through its high-altitude balloon program.   Local Amateur Radio operators and veteran satellite gurus Ken Owen, N6KTH and Calli Marquez, KD6OVS from the Santa Barbara Amateur Radio Club agreed to support the direct radio contact should Anacapa be accepted.

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On August 13, 2012 our application was approved by NASA and preparations began.  Each year, Anacapa students participate in the school’s Synthesis Unit, Anacapa’s premier tool for developing critical thinking skills. Each Unit provides students with unique opportunities to explore a specific topic in depth with expert speakers, field trips and hands-on experiences. Anacapa faculty decided that given the tremendous opportunity we had with ARISS, the Synthesis Unit topic would be “Space: Where Are We Going?”

As part of this Synthesis Unit, Anacapa hosted a three-day series of speakers in January who presented on a variety of space-related topics including Santa Barbara-area aerospace contractors, academic researchers and NASA Astronaut Rick Linnehan, who visited Anacapa from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston (Videos from Synthesis Unit “Space: Where Are We Going?”). After the speaker series, Anacapa students then hopped a bus to visit the space launch complexes at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County.

In the spring, students in ANSEC studied for and passed the Federal Communication Commission’s Amateur Radio license exam.

“It’s a lot of work.  You need to know a lot about electronics and radio frequencies,” said ANSEC team member Sam Robertson.  ” There are a lot of laws involved in it because when you’re on the radio you need to be responsible so you aren’t, say, talking over a (broadcast) radio station or TV station.”

As a complement to this year’s Synthesis Unit, Anacapa teachers across varying content areas have incorporated lessons regarding space, astronomy, NASA, and the ISS into their subject curriculum.

ARISS and Teaching From Space, a NASA education office, support participating schools in instilling interest in science, technology, engineering and math subjects and careers among students. The ARISS radio contact is one in a series of educational activities in the U.S. and abroad to improve teaching and learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Teaching From Space promotes a variety of learning opportunities and builds partnerships with the education community using the unique environment of human spaceflight.

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ANSEC Team members and I pose next to the satellite antenna array after the contact with Astronaut Chris Cassidy.