"I was really quite nervous"
"My name is Vera. Do you have internet up there, over". After asking her question, Vera steps aside. The next in line has to quickly move forward, otherwise André will be out of reach of the amateur radio station that has been set up at Space Expo, Noordwijk.
The rehearsal goes smoothly. "Speak up a bit, and move closer to the microphone", says Gaston Bertels, chairman of Amateur Radio on the International Space Station in Europe (ARISS-Europe). There won't be time for mistakes tomorrow, they will have to get it right first go.
The rehearsal is over, the eighteen students and over eighty of their classmates gather in the Ariane room. The children are from five different schools, and are the winners of ESA's art and essay contest 'Zeg het ISS' (Talk ISS). Their prize is a two-day school outing to Space Expo. The highlight of the trip will be a live radio contact with ESA astronaut André Kuipers.
The highlight isn't until tomorrow, but already on Friday evening everyone is very excited. Each school gives a presentation, the children tell about where they are from, and what it is that interests them about space.
It's been a day packed full of activities for the children from 'De Regenboog', a junior school in Hellevoetsluis. They left the school playground early this morning dressed in astronaut suits. Now, dressed in their white overalls, they sing their 'astronaut song'.
After a night at the youth hostel in Noordwijk, the children are back at Space Expo bright and early, ready for another day of fun. Bertels explains how amateur radio works and ESA astronaut Reinhold Ewald drops in to tell firsthand what it is like to be in space. And he should know. In 1997 Ewald spent eighteen days on board the Russian space station Mir.
Excitement levels rise as Ewald tells about life in space. There is a large screen behind him showing how the International Space Station is approaching the radio contact zone. Any moment now André will be heard on the radio and the questions can start. Contact is successful: "Hello, this is André Kuipers from on board ISS, I am ready for your questions".
Cynthia wants to know if there is a clock in space. Kuipers tells her that they use Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) on board ISS, and that there is a clock on board, but all the astronauts also wear their own watch. Julia asks if you can breathe normally in space. Kuipers replies: "Not in space, but here on board the Space Station the air is normal". Rik wants to know how Kuipers is getting on with his fellow crewmates. Kuipers: "We have a lot of fun together. We talk Russian and English to each other, we get on well."
Just after the eighteenth question is answered, Kuipers slowly fades away. The radio contact is finished. "That's a pity", says Sandy, who admits that she was really quite nervous. She leaves the room together with her classmates to take part in the last activity of the two-day outing. They all build their own rocket. It is just a small one, made of cardboard, but it really works! The container from a roll of film is attached to the bottom; add a small amount of water, and a fizzy tablet. Wait about a minute and boom! Some of the rockets shoot three metres into the air!
Time for a quick group photo and then the party is really over. Back to school and back to work. Who knows, maybe some of the schoolchildren will be back at ESA one day, maybe in about 20 years time. As a scientist, a technician or maybe even… an astronaut!