The Cal Poly Amateur Radio Club successfully contacted life in outer space today in a radio conversation with International Space Station astronaut Daniel Burbank at the Keck Advanced Technology Laboratory on campus.
The nine-and-a-half minute conversation with Burbank was the featured aspect of an event hosted by the Cal Poly Amateur Radio Club and the College of Engineering that also included various club booths, a club presentation and a guest speaker.
This unconventional interview was a long time coming — Cal Poly Amateur Radio Club president and aerospace engineering senior Javen O’Neal filled out the application to the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) program in July. ARISS is an international program coordinated by NASA and other organizations which sets up radio conversations between astronauts on the space station and the public to educate them on outer space topics and amateur radio. Burbank decided he wanted to talk to Cal Poly during his free time today, O’Neal said.
The conversation with Burbank touched on a variety of topics related to being an astronaut and life on the space station. Boy Scouts from a troop in Arroyo Grande, 4-H club members and students from Branch Elementary School in Arroyo Grande asked Burbank a number of questions including “What does it feel like when you take off?” (which Burbank said was most comparable to a roller coaster) and “What do you do with waste?”
Meg Stern, a member of the 4-H club from Cambria, asked Burbank what kinds of experiments are done on the space station. According to Burbank, they do “all kinds.”
“I’ve never really talked to an astronaut before, and when I first heard about this, I was really excited because I was like, ‘Oh, I get to talk to an astronaut who’s actually on the space station,’” Stern said. “It was really cool getting to hear the response.”
While O’Neal said the club had a vague idea of when their conversation with Burbank would be, they got the final date and time from NASA a week ago. Organizing the publicity and room reservations was “sort of a last-minute scramble,” he said. But the results made the work worth it for him.
“It went really well,” O’Neal said. “For Cal Poly’s very first radio contact with the International Space Station, I’m really happy.”
The event also included a presentation by the PolySat club and a discussion by aerospace engineering professor Kira Abercromby about the space station.
Other groups including the Cal Poly branch of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the Estero Radio Club also had a chance to talk with attendees after the conversation with Burbank. Since the radio conversation was short, the Cal Poly Amateur Radio Club wanted to make sure to add more aspects to the event to make it worth coming onto campus, O’Neal said.
Bill Fageol of the Estero Radio Club and the San Luis Obispo Emergency Communications Council said this was the first conversation of this kind for him, but he thought Burbank was well-prepared and the questions were good.
“It’s amazing what you can do with radio,” Fageol said. “I’m part of the amateur radio group here, and we use radio to talk around the world but very rarely we talk away from the world, which is what you do when you talk to the space station. It’s really neat.”
O’Neal is graduating so he won’t organize another conversation such as the one with Burbank, but he said if someone else in the club wanted to organize a similar talk next year, he’d help out.
“It was a lot of fun,” O’Neal said. “Definitely worthwhile.”