ARISS-Europe News Bulletin – 11.11.2006




Friday 10 November 2006 at 14:37 UTC (15:37 local time), an ARISS telebridge contact was performed in Gentbrugge, Belgium with US astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria KE5GTK, commander of the  International Space Station.


A previous attempt had been planned 27 September during Flanders Science Festival in Ghent, Belgium. This ARISS School Contact was cancelled at the last moment due to docking problems of a Progress vehicle. 

During the October 26 Progress docking, Russian flight controllers were unable to confirm whether an automated antenna on the rocket had retracted as commanded. If still extended, the antenna could have interfered with the final latching of the supply ship to the ISS. To avoid disturbing the softly docked cargo ship and to aid the crew with docking maneuvers, the ISS orientation was allowed to drift freely.

During free-drift mode, however, the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS) -- which handles communication between the crew and Mission Control in Houston -- can be lost. That's because the station's solar arrays may not directly face the sun, causing a drop in onboard power.

NASA called on a special -- although little-known -- Amateur Radio team to stand by if needed.

Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) Ops Team "ISS Ham Contingency Network" volunteers around the world immediately swung into action. Within 15 minutes of receiving the call from Johnson Space Center, Kenneth Ransom, N5VHO, reported the ISS Ham Contingency Network was ready to provide any necessary communication support.


The call-up marked the first time that NASA had asked for such Amateur Radio assistance since the initial crew came aboard the ISS in November 2000. Ransom said that by remaining available to ensure solid communication while Mission Control staff dealt with the docking issue, the ISS Ham Contingency Network provided Mission Control with an additional layer of security.


Once the antenna retraction problem was resolved, the contingency network stood down. NASA's request and the ensuing ham radio activity did serve as a valuable drill.


NASA says Expedition 14 Commander Mike Lopez-Alegria, KE5GTK, and flight engineers Mikhail Tyurin, RZ3FT, and Thomas Reiter, DF4TR, opened the hatch to the supply ship October 27 to unload supplies. Consequently, no time was left to do the scheduled ARISS School Contact with Flanders Science Festival.


Hence the re-scheduling of the ARISS contact with the Henri Dhaese primary school in Gentbrugge. 

The 11-12 year old schoolchildren had prepared 20 questions and commander Lopez-Alegria answered all the questions during the 10 minutes pass over the ARISS telebridge ground station W5RRR located at Houston Space Center, Texas:


“My name is Ida. Do you miss your family up there?” – “Hello Ida. Of course, I miss my family. I have a 7 year old boy and love him very, very much”.


“My name is Yuri. What do you miss the most in space?” – “Yuri, we miss a lot of things, also some simple things such as the smell of freshly cut grass or the sound of waves”.


“My name is Frank. Why does NASA prefer to send people instead of robots?” – “Well Frank, I think that robots can do some of the things that we can do and there are very sophisticated robots. But I think it will be a long time before robots can actually replace humans”.


The audio of this space talk is attached hereto.


Three TV stations, a radio broadcast station and newspapers covered the event.


ARISS, Amateur Radio on the International Space Station, an international working group of several amateur radio societies from countries participating to the ISS, provides a free educational outreach programme in collaboration with the Space Agencies, involving a worldwide team of volunteering amateur radio operators.



Gaston Bertels, ON4WF

ARISS-Europe chairman

Henri Dhaese audio