Yesterday, about 200 children visited ESRIN, ESA’s European Space Research Institute near Rome. All of them belonged to the primary school classes that had won the “mISSione possibile” competition. The children had come to claim their prize: to talk to Roberto Vittori, the Italian ESA astronaut now orbiting the Earth in the International Space Station.
The radio link-up with the International Space Station (ISS) was made possible thanks to the Amateur Radio on ISS (ARISS) educational experiment, part of the scientific programme of the ENEIDE mission. ARISS is an international group of amateur radio societies in countries that participate in the ISS programme.
“As soon as the ISS passed over Greenbelt, Maryland in the USA, the Club Radio Station NN1SS established a radio link with Roberto Vittori. This meant that we had about 10 minutes to talk with him,” explains Gaston Bertels, President of ARISS-Europe.
“In turn, the Club Radio Station NN1SS was linked to ESRIN by phone,” adds Francesco De Paolis of AMSAT Italy, the Principal Investigator for ARISS on board the Eneide mission. “Unfortunately the ISS did not pass over Italy, otherwise we could have had a direct link from ESRIN to Vittori”.
It was a great day for the children present. When they arrived, by bus, at ESRIN the children were very curious and excited. After a short welcome by Simonetta Cheli, Head of ESA’s Public and Institutional Relations Office at ESRIN and Elena Grifoni, Head of the ISS Utilisation Strategy and Education Office, there was just time to announce which of the children had been chosen to speak to Vittori during the chat.
“Cross your fingers,” said ESA’s Stefano Bandessi suddenly, “we are going to call the ISS”. At 14.35 in ESRIN’s Magellan room 200 pairs of crossed fingers waved in the air. A deep silence fell and the children looked at each other smiling. After a few minutes wait and some radio interference they heard Vittori’s voice: “Hello, I’m Roberto Vittori, can you hear me well?”
In the short time available Vittori answered around a dozen questions. What is life like on the ISS? Did he miss not eating ice cream? How can you float in space? The children also wanted to know if they could become astronauts even though they misbehaved sometimes, which was the most interesting planet to visit and what we can expect to find in the Solar System.
“Today,” said Vittori, “access to space is still only for a few but the technology is already fully developed. So when you are older you will have the chance to travel in space if you wish. But you must study, study, study and don’t forget about sport!”
“Vittori is now 41 years old” remarked Elena Grifoni at the end of the link up, “more or less the same age that the children visiting ESRIN today will have in 2030. So the first man or woman to step foot on the red planet could well be among them.”