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First Contact

Thirteen students at St. Clare School in Waveland, Miss., made a whopper of a long-distance call this month—to outer space. At the other end of the line was American astronaut Carl Walz, who's aboard the International Space Station.

The 10-minute transmission between the space station and the 200-student Roman Catholic school was five years in the making. But Mary Bartholomew, the school's technology director, said it was well worth the wait.

"The kids were absolutely thrilled," she said. "The whole school listened in, and you could tell they were excited."

In early 1997, the parent of a former St. Clare student helped the school apply for American Radio Relay League membership. The school also was put on a waiting list for the Amateur Radio International Space Station Program.

The program lets schools use ham radios to talk with astronauts. Originally, the program was used to put students in touch with space-shuttle astronauts. But National Aeronautics and Space Administration officials have broadened it to include contact with the space station.

Teachers prepared students by teaching them the ins and outs of radio systems, frequencies, and the electrostatic spectrum, as well as space travel. "They had to learn ham-radio jargon too," Ms. Bartholomew said.

Radio- league volunteers came to the school the week before the scheduled transmission and installed software to track the space station's coordinates across the globe.

Mr. Walz made contact with the school via a radio relay in California that was then received through a telephone link. When the link was established, the school broadcast it over the local public-address system and the Internet.

Students asked a range of questions, from how the crew had celebrated Christmas to what effects the war in Afghanistan had had on the space station's communications with Earth. The space station's current crew consists of two Americans and a Russian.

—Marianne Hurst

Vol. 21, Issue 20, Page 3

Published in Print: January 30, 2002, as Take Note

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