An amateur ham radio enthusiast has made one of the coolest contacts possible, talking with an astronaut aboard the International Space Station (ISS) using a homemade antenna.
The ham radio operator, Doug, made contact with the ISS as it passed overhead in July 2023.
"I've made numerous voice and APRS [Automatic Packet Reporting System] contacts over the FM satellites and the ISS repeater," Doug wrote on his YouTube page. "But I've always wanted to talk to an astronaut. Over the Memorial Day weekend I finally made that contact. I made contact with the ISS and talked to Woody Hoburg. What a thrill."
Though they of course have other duties on board the space station, many astronauts have ham radio licenses and are happy to talk to operators back here on Earth.
NASA, ESA, CSA, and Roscosmos all take part in the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) program, which encourages school children to contact the space station, with the goal of expanding their interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The ISS runs several sessions talking to schoolchildren throughout the year via radio, but also makes occasional contact with amateur enthusiasts using their own equipment.
“It's pretty rare to speak to an astronaut outside of a scheduled educational contact. There are several factors that need to align for it to happen,” one ham radio operator explained to IFLScience after he and his daughter Isabella made contact with astronaut Kjell Lindgren in August 2022.
“The ISS must be passing within LOS [Line Of Sight]... at a time that coincides with an astronauts ‘down time,’ as in they must not be working doing an official scheduled task. There must be an astronaut who is actively using the Amateur Radio equipment to make unscheduled contacts."