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3rd May 2013 at 01:00

Voices in orbit

Making radio contact with astronauts

Finding ways of bringing the solar system and the universe to life for students is always a challenge, such is the difficulty of appreciating the otherness of space. But one organisation is hoping that direct chats with those who are working and living in space may help.

The Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) organisation engages with a worldwide collection of amateur radio enthusiasts to establish contact between schools and astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS). These efforts have received much recent attention because of the huge Twitter following of Commander Chris Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield). His frequent tweets from the ISS have included information about the link-ups he has so far set up with schools across his native Canada.

The man who organised those link-ups was ARISS mentor Brian Jackson. He explains that radio link-ups with schools have occurred throughout the history of space travel, but that modern technology and the fact that more astronauts are permanently living in space are enabling the scheme to grow larger than ever. While Hadfield is on the ISS, the hope is that a school in every province of Canada will get a chance to talk to him.

"There are a few things that the kids get out of these opportunities," Jackson says. "The first, and most important, is that they get the chance to talk to a real astronaut in space - a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The reaction from the participants is a sense of amazement.

"Second to this, we have an opportunity to promote amateur radio to new audiences," Jackson adds. "Having hosted one of these contacts myself, I can say they really are amazing opportunities."

With Virgin Galactic aiming to take tourists to the edge of space, and private companies such as SpaceX seeking to move into outer-space travel, the number of people hovering above the Earth is highly likely to increase.

In addition, the prospect of living in outer space is expected to gradually become more viable. This would dramatically increase the prospective interview candidates for schools on Earth, giving more students the opportunity to get a real insight into the topics they are studying in class.

This, of course, may be some way off. At present, the astronauts living on the ISS are too few to spread themselves around every school.

That said, Jackson is keen for any schools interested in the project to get in touch via the programme's website: ariss.rac.ca.

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