Excited students radio astronauts


April 10, 1993|By Karin Remesch | Karin Remesch,Contributing Writer

For a few agonizing moments yesterday, it looked like months of preparation would be for naught and Jarrettsville Elementary School students would miss their chance to talk to astronauts in space.

But after 90 seconds of frantic efforts to reach Col. Kenneth Cameron, commander of the space shuttle Discovery, the frequencies on the radios aligned at 9:36 a.m., and he came in loud and clear.

"Hello, Jarrettsville Elementary School," he said while orbiting 161 nautical miles above Earth.

From a spare classroom that had been turned into a space lab complete with computers, a fax machine and amateur radios, students had tracked the shuttle since it was launched into orbit early Thursday on an eight-day mission to measure Earth's shrinking ozone layer.

Jarrettsville joined an elite group of only 16 schools worldwide selected to communicate with Discovery as part of the Shuttle Amateur Radio EXperiment, coordinated by NASA and three amateur radio groups.

The 12 students standing by to talk to Colonel Cameron showed signs of relief when they heard his voice at last. Clutching cue cards with questions they had prepared, they stepped to the microphone of the amateur radio and fired away.

Not even the many TV cameras and photographers seemed to faze them. First-grader Chad Engers wanted to know how the astronauts cook dinner. Satisfied with the answer -- after water is added to instant dinners, they are heated in convection ovens -- the freckle-faced 7-year-old was ready to go play basketball.

Mike Meola, on the other hand, pointed to all the computer equipment tracking the shuttle and started planning his future.

"When I grow up," the fourth-grader said, "I want to be an astronaut, and then I can be hooked up to all this equipment and have a chance to speak from space to the students back on Earth."

Jarrettsville's detailed proposal for the radio contact beat out many others from throughout the world in fierce competition, said Frank H. Bauer, a senior systems engineer at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt. The school was chosen in part because it promised to integrate classes on space technology across the school curriculum.

When the school lost contact with the shuttle at 9:41 a.m. yesterday, third-grader Kathy Preston remained spellbound after speaking to Colonel Cameron.

"I still can't believe it. I think I'm still in a state of shock," she said. "I guess this is something I'll be able to tell my children and the can tell their children."

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