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Students Ham It Up To The Final Frontier

Chicago Tribune

Published April 2, 2006

BRADLEY -- Talk about an out-of-this-world experience.

Students at Bradley-Bourbonnais High School chatted long distance Tuesday with an American astronaut on board the International Space Station as it passed over the United States.

For 10 minutes, the school had a crystal-clear communication link with the space station via ham radio.

"I don't want you to start panicking unless you see me panicking," science teacher Jim Schreiner told a packed school auditorium just minutes before attempting to patch into the space station.

After the fifth try, the school established contact with astronaut Bill McArthur, the station's science officer, who was communicating from his ham radio station some 1,000 miles above the school.

"How do you go to the bathroom in space?" asked student Alaina Buford.

"Carefully," the astronaut responded.

McArthur talked to students about experiments on the space station, including how gravity affects astronauts engaged in long-term space travel.

Asked by another student what seemed to be the best vacation spot in space, McArthur didn't miss a beat.

"There are wonderful views up here," he said. "Our recommendation is Mars."

The chat was three years in the making as Schreiner, the Kankakee Area Radio Society and Amateur Radio on the International Space Station coordinated the project.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's ARISS program has allowed astronauts to try to make contact with students and teachers at more than 200 schools around the globe.

Bradley-Bourbonnais High School was chosen from more than 100 applicants to participate in the program.

School officials plan to make a DVD of the space talk.

"I hope a lot of the kids got some excitement from this," Schreiner said.