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Radio Enthusiast Speaks With Space Tourist

Lisa Mrazek
The StarPhoenix with AP files

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Ned Carroll's amateur radio has connected him from his Davidson-area home with people all over the globe, but now it's given him an experience that's out of this world.

Carroll spoke Thursday with Anousheh Ansari, an Iranian-American space tourist on board the International Space Station (ISS).

The small radio inside Carroll's farmhouse, west of Davidson, was tuned to the space station's frequency and picked up its signal at around noon Thursday.

Carroll said he heard a woman's voice coming through the speakers of his ham radio.

"I heard her say, 'C-Q, C-Q, C-Q,' and of course that means she wants to talk to someone, anyone who is listening," said Carroll. "And I thought, 'What the heck, you can't lose by trying.' " He rushed over to his radio, grabbed the microphone and said, "V-E-5-N-E-D," his call sign, and anxiously awaited a response. He didn't have to wait long, as the voice responded immediately repeating, "this is R-S-0-I-SF," which is the Russian Space Station call sign, and then the voice revealed her name, "Anousheh Ansari." When Ansari, co-founder and chair of Prodea System, Inc., lifted off on the Soyuz TMA-9 mission from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Sept. 18, she became the fi rst female space tourist. The Dallas woman reportedly paid $20 million for an eight-day visit aboard the ISS.

"I was pretty excited," said Carroll.

"And the next thing I was so excited about was when she said, 'You are the fi rst amateur radio operator that I have contacted from the International Space Station,' and I said, 'Wow.' " There are thousands of amateur radio operators worldwide, but Carroll is one of a small number of people who have made contact with the space station, said Bjarne Madsen, midwest regional director of Radio Amateurs of Canada.

"It's quite rare," said Madsen. "There are a great many people who want to (make contact with the ISS) and only a few that succeed because there is, after all, only one ISS and it's only there for a few minutes at any given time and the opportunity to actually make contact with it is very slim." Madsen said the space station creates a line a few hundred kilometres wide at best, moving across the Earth as it orbits.

A radio operator who happens to fall within that line as it passes by, within an eight- to 10-minute window of opportunity, can communicate with the ISS, he said.

"Not only is it possible to do, but it doesn't take any sophisticated equipment particularly," said Madsen.

"It's really a question of knowing where to listen and when to listen." Within the small window of time, Carroll said he and Ansari were only able to give their locations, comment on how well they could hear each other and then exchange goodbyes. Afterward, he said many questions came to his head and he wished he would have had time to ask her.

For her part, Ansari reportedly said Friday she felt a little queasy on her rocket ride to the ISS, but she has been enjoying every minute of her cosmic trip since.

"The entire experience has been wonderful up here," she said.

Ansari said the trip to the station "was not fun for me" since she experienced back pain, a headache and motion sickness.

But her favourite moment came during the ride when she saw Earth for the fi rst time.

It was "so beautiful and peaceful . . . It was something I will never forget," she said.

Back on the ground in Davidson, Carroll says he is going to keep his radio turned on and hope to speak with Ansari again, even though he knows his chances are slim.

"(Amateur radio) is a wonderful hobby and every once in a while something like this comes along and you really enjoy it," said Carroll.