Hailing frequencies were open at St. Albert Catholic High on Monday as students held a live chat with a Canadian aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
As the rest of their school listened in, about 12 SACHS students asked questions of Canadian astronaut Mark Pathy via amateur radio April 11. The conversation was made possible by the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) program, which back in 2013 allowed Sir George Simpson students to speak with astronaut Chris Hadfield while the latter was aboard the ISS.
SACHS was one of the 10 schools in Canada set to talk to Pathy during his mission through this program, said teacher Hilary Gabelmann. École Secondaire Sainte Marguerite d’Youville and École Marie Poburan students were scheduled to speak with Pathy on April 13 and 14, respectively.
SACHS got this chance in September after a parent working on Pathy’s space mission told the school about the ARISS program, Gabelmann said. Students formed a space club, researched space science, and launched a weather balloon in preparation for the event. They compiled a list of questions for Pathy six weeks ago, and on April 8 watched as he took off from the Kennedy Space Center aboard a Falcon 9 rocket.
Ground control to Maj. Pathy
A Montreal-based philanthropist, Pathy is part of the world’s first all-private astronaut mission to the ISS and will assist with experiments on chronic pain, two-way holographic communication, and other topics during his 10-day mission.
SACHS students had roughly 10 minutes to speak with Pathy before the ISS (travelling at about 28,000 km/h) zipped out of transmission range. Questions from school covered topics such as solar flares, weather, and health.
Pathy told the students it took him about two days to adjust to life in orbit — in addition to the roughly five-hour time-zone shift (Montreal is on Eastern Standard Time while the station is on Greenwich Mean Time), there is the whole lack of gravity, which makes it feel like you’re falling all the time.
“We had a lot of training from NASA and SpaceX, but it never prepares you for the real feelings in zero gravity,” Pathy said.
Pathy said he was worried about space debris hitting the station at first, but had yet to see any of it zipping past the station. He was happy to hear that so many students were interested in space science.
Grade 12 student Barrett Groves asked Pathy about space debris, and said it felt surreal to talk to him.
“I feel like every kid has that dream of going into space,” she said.
“The opportunity to talk to someone who is not only an astronaut but currently in space was really cool.”
A recording of the SACHS chat can be viewed on the Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools Facebook page.