Published: Monday, 11 May 2015 06:43
Written by Dennis Green, ZS4BS
It was a day they will long remember! Learners from the Sol Plaatje Primary School in Mmabatho linked up on Saturday 2 May 2015 with the Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, IZ0UDF, on the International Space Station via a link established by an amateur radio ground station located in Casale Monferrato, in the north of Italy, operated by Claudio Arrotti, IK1SLD.
While negotiating to secure a slot for a South African school, the Italian Embassy approached the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA) to assist with identifying a school for this project. The fact that the Sol Plaat-je Primary School team beat 1 101 other schools to win SAASTA's National As-troQuiz in 2014, secured them this exciting opportunity.
The original plan was for the learners to talk with Samantha Cristoforetti during a morning pass, but due to work pressure on the ISS, the contact was moved to a late after-noon pass, which resulted in the link to be shared with an Italian school.
Tensions were running high when it was established that the telephone line ex-tended to the hall could not receive incoming calls. "We frantically arranged with the te-lebridge in the USA that we would be calling them," Hans van de Groenendaal, ZS6AKV, said.
Prior to the ISS contact, Koos Fick, ZR6KF, who is a learner at the Helpmekaar High School and the South African Radio League's youth coordinator, made a brief presentation about amateur radio and how it is helping him in his school career and how this scientific hobby is providing communica-tion during emergencies, community and sporting events. He said that the link up with the ISS would not have been possible without amateur radio.
As the last few seconds ticked away, the learners were poised to ask their ques-tions and, with the audience, were visibly on tenterhooks, but when the first words "Hi, I am Samatha Cristoforetti" was heard across the speakers, there was a spontaneous ap-plause followed by an intense 10 minutes of silence as Sol Plaatje learners and learners at the Italian school alternately asked the questions. It was an event to remember for a lifetime.
The link to the audio of the contact is available on www.amsatsa.org.za