Mary Hare pupils make contact with International Space Station in world first for deaf children with Newbury Amateur Radio Society
History was made at Mary Hare school this week as its pupils made contact with the International Space Station (ISS) as it passed overhead.
At precisely 12 minutes past 12, direct contact was made with an astronaut aboard the ISS, with the help of Newbury and District Amateur Radio Society.
“We are aiming quite high today,” the spokesperson for the Newbury and District Amateur Radio Society (NADARS), Lloyd Farington, told students as they awaited the much anticipated contact from space.
“The International Space Station is 400km above us. It is going 17,000km an hour. It is amazing what we are going to do today.”
Around 10 pupils from Mary Hare were prepared with questions, chosen by them, to ask NASA astronaut, Mark Vande Hei as he passed above them in space.
Mr Farington said: “It’s a world first. This is the first time a group of deaf children speak to the space station.
“The school motto is about aiming high and we may get much higher today, higher than a space station.”
As members of the radio society set up equipment for the long distance contact to take place, pupils posed questions to guest speakers from the UK space station and NADARS.
Operation Head of the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) Ciaran Morgan said: “It is a first for us so we are delighted to be able to do this.
“It feels challenging. We are going to be taking questions, and using technology, converting speech into text and putting it up onto the screen, so that the students can read it.”
While science talk, with all its jargon, might seem alien to many children, the pupils of Mary Hare listened eagerly as former astronaut trainer, Susan Buckle, from the UK Space Station told them everything she knew about things beyond Earth.
She then proceeded to show the children various satellites, some the size of a hand held cube, which she had with her, to others the size of cars and even tennis courts, which she, of course, could not bring along.
The presentation continued until five minutes were left before contact.
When the radio society opened up to receive audio, white noise fell over the entire hall.
Mr Farington sent over a message asking astronaut, Mr Vande Hei: “NA1CC, this is GBMHN are you receiving, over?”
Static noise continued to fill the silence until a response came and the questions started rolling in.
The pupils asked Mr Vande Hei what his favourite “space technology” was, whether he has to learn sign language, how he showers in zero gravity and how he would evacuate if there was a fire.
He was also asked if mobile phones work, what the Earth looks like from space and what the Northern Lights look like too.
To which he told them that the Northern Lights looked like a “curtain or waterfall in the darkness of light” and the earth looks like the moment in winter when you open the door to the blanket whiteness of snow.
They also discovered that he had been in space for 186 days so far, and a total of 354 days in his life.
Mr Vande Hei concluded the session by thanking everyone for "making his day".
He said: “You all just made my day thank you for the opportunity, thank you for the wonderful questions and for sharing this with me, over.”
Science teacher at Mary Hare, Alex Ayling said the project was “two years in the making” after being held up by Covid restrictions.
He said: “It feels great, it is a great opportunity for our students.
“It all demonstrates to them what they can achieve and what they can overcome.”
Mr Alying also said that he hopes this may get the children interested science.
One Mary Hare pupil, Rosie Harris said: “I do love getting involved with sciences, it is very interesting to see all of those radios and stuff, getting in contact.”
Another year 9 pupil, Jasper Loten, said he was “very excited” to speak directly to an astronaut.
He said: “I told my parents and they were very excited, they’re really proud.
“I practiced my question over and over again to feel confident."
Mr Farrington told the pupils: “You are going to be writing history.
“It is a first time ever hearing impaired children have ever spoken to an astronaut about the space station.”
Pupil, Ollie Dow asked Mr Vande Hei what he would take to space if he could, to which he replied “My wife, life is much better with her.”
Ollie said: “It was quite interesting, how they reacted to my question.
“It was really fun.”
The contact with the ISS can be seen online at: https://live.ariss.org/