As the International Space Station circles Earth at an altitude of only 400 km, basic radio technology can be used to communicate with it – as long as it flies within sight of the receiver on the ground.
The Amateur Radio on the International Space Station group organises regular contacts with astronauts in space and schoolchildren. Here, ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli was talking to a school in Villasanta, Italy. Each overhead path allows enough time to answer around 18 questions from schoolchildren.
Paolo is on his third mission in space, called Vita, and has set records for amateur radio. During Vita he reclaimed his title of astronaut with the most school contacts, and also set a record for video over amateur radio – a new addition to the Station in 2014.
Paolo’s mission is coming to an end, with the landing date set for 14 December at 08:36 GMT (09:36 CET) together with Russian commander Sergei Ryazansky and NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik in their Soyuz MS-05 spacecraft.
If you have the equipment at home, you can try to contact an astronaut on the Station as it passes within range. Paolo’s call sign is IZ0JPA but all astronauts are trained on the equipment and have their own call sign. Hail them and you might get lucky as they pass by – if they have a minute to spare between working on experiments and maintaining the Space Station.
For more information and to apply for a school session to talk to an astronaut, go to the ARISS website here: http://www.ariss-eu.org/