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Cambridge students ready to connect with orbiting astronaut

Cambridge students are getting a 'once in a lifetime opportunity' to make contact with outer space

Cambridge students are about to answer a call that's literally out of this world. 

Looking down at the pale blue dot we call Earth is a group of people on the International Space Station, and one of them is about to have a conversation no one could have predicted when they rocketed into space.

The call isn't to Houston to report a problem or to Cape Canaveral, but to a small room full of kids in Cambridge. 

Flying about 28,000 kilometres an hour, astronauts from the ISS will hop on a radio and buzz a Cambridge library to talk with children from the city on August 18.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, not only for us but the children who get to ask questions,” said Scott Mitchell, club trainer and past president at the Cambridge Amateur Radio Club (CARC).

The CARC will be using a normal amateur radio to call Dr. Kjell N. Lindgren from the ISS and a lucky few will get the chance to ask him questions. 

Dr. Lindgren has been on various space missions since 2009, including two spacewalks. He's participated in hundreds of scientific experiments. 

This is not the first time, Dr. Lindgren has made contact with students via radio. He recently took part in the Amateur Radio Relay League's 2022 Field Day.

The event aimed to support public services, emergency preparedness, community outreach, and technical skills in the United States. 

Mitchell and his crew have been in the planning process for this event for the last two years.

After submitting an application in 2020, there was a lot of waiting around. Then six weeks ago, the club got a call from Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) letting them know their application was approved. 

“We pretty much got a call one day from NASA saying when our call would be, and how long we would get with the astronauts,” said Mitchell. 

Since then, they have been in preparation mode, having one of their members program their radios and antennas to follow the ISS as it flies over the Old Post Office Idea Exchange. 

“The overall contact that we're going to have with them is about seven to nine minutes long,” said Mitchell. “It's going to be a situation of trying to get through as many questions as possible before our time is up.”

This will be the first contact any library has made with the ISS in Ontario. Mitchell and his team are “over the moon,” excited to get this opportunity. 

The Idea Exchange has around 15 prepared questions for Dr. Lindgren like, what do you eat in space?, what do you do when you are bored? and other general questions. 

The organization that is setting up the call with the NASA astronauts, ARISS, wants to expose these children to the world of science and technology, allowing them to see the power of something as simple as a ham radio can have. 

A simple radio anyone can have in their home is capable of communication with crews aboard the ISS, said Mitchell. 

“This is a rare opportunity that doesn’t come along every day and we’re excited we can help set this up and really make something memorable for these kids,” said Mitchell. 

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Joe McGinty

About the Author: Joe McGinty

Joe McGinty is a multimedia journalist who covers local news in the Cambridge area. He is a graduate of Conestoga College and began his career as a freelance journalist at CambridgeToday before joining full time.
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