By Sydney Mackie
Tarwater Elementary students will have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity this October to converse with astronauts currently in orbit.
The Amateur Radio on the International Space Station program picked Tarwater as one of only seven schools in the nation – and the only one in Arizona – to ask questions of the crew aboard the International Space Station in a 20-minute broadcast.
Tarwater Principal, Diane Hale said each grade will utilize their knowledge in scientific questioning to determine the most worthwhile inquiries for the astronauts. Then the school will select one question per grade level.
“We’ve been talking a lot about good questions and learning a lot about what questions maybe we could find out by researching versus the questions we really need to ask,” Hale said.
The broadcast is made possible with the use of ham radio equipment as well as a passionate team of parents and staff.
The program itself was brought to Hale’s attention in 2019 by a parent with an interest in such technology.
“Being part of the ham radio community, he was aware of this, so he approached me to see if this would be something we would be interested in doing,” Hale explained.
“He saw that the proposal was posted and that applications were due soon, so we worked with him to learn a little bit more about it, then we jumped on the opportunity.”
In December, the school submitted its first application and was approved in January 2020 to have contact with the Space Station in August or September of last year.
But the pandemic forced Tarwater to shut down its campus at that time, so the school pulled its application.
“We had no idea if we would be in session. We knew many families were choosing online, some were choosing to homeschool at that point and there was so much else to worry about that we just canceled,” Hale said.
She said the parent “encouraged us to apply again and so we did.”
Tarwater got picked again, this time scheduling the transmission for the last week of October.
The school has made it a priority to integrate the program into each grade’s curriculum and instruction.
“Tarwater students will learn about space communications including satellite communication, wireless technology, and radio science through exploration of amateur radio,” according to a release from the program.
Amateur radio organizations around the world with the support of NASA and space agencies in Russia, Canada, Japan and Europe present educational organizations with this opportunity.
The ham radio organizations’ volunteer efforts provide the equipment and operational support to enable communication between crew on the ISS and students around the world using amateur radio.
“The goal of the program is to teach students more about radio science and increase the student interest in STEM careers and one of our goals as a school is to promote global citizenship and the idea that we are all a part of the big world,” Hale said.
“With this being an international space station, the idea and symbolism that all these countries are coming together to do science just fit so perfectly.”
Tarwater Elementary is also hoping to plan a night beneath the stars for the excited parents, students and teachers in October prior to the broadcast. The local community will be encouraged to attend with a telescope and discuss space and science.
“I think anytime you can give kids a real-life experience, they start to see careers, they start to see possibilities,” Hale said.
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