Deis schools link up with International Space Station via amateur radio

Contact with ISS ‘continues to be one of the best practical demonstrations of science and technology in action’

The International Space Station (ISS) has been racing around planet Earth for 25 years and is still cause for awe whenever it makes contact with young earthlings – just as it was when 12 primary pupils from Dublin-based Deis schools had a chat with Crew-7’s lead astronaut on Friday.

As usual the window of opportunity was tight as the spacecraft was whizzing by at 27,600km/h on an arc south of Dublin, giving the pupils about 11 minutes to make direct contact with Jasmin Moghbeli of Nasa.

The amateur radio contact took place at 14:11 Irish standard time and was live-streamed using TU Dublin’s YouTube channel. The pupils had fascinating, quick-fire questions to put to her about life in space, ranging from “do you dream differently in space” to “what is take-off like”.

Moghbeli said she dreams “more often up here about space”, and take-off was a lot smoother than anticipated. As for keeping food fresh, some fruits are delivered when another spacecraft joins up with the ISS “but you have to eat them quickly”, while her favourite food is a beef patty with wholemeal bread – “the nearest thing to a hamburger” – and least favourite is pickled beets.


To carry out this Earth-to-space radio contact, courtesy of the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (Ariss) programme, TU Dublin set up a temporary station on its grounds. It included an antenna and a two-way radio system, allowing students to speak directly to Moghbeli while she was taking a break from her duties and on-board experiments.

Ariss national co-ordinator Séamus McCague gave the students a technical briefing in advance, explaining the ISS’s parking problems with so many other spacecraft coming and going. He told them they live in an age when it’s possible to become an astronaut.

Crew-7 is a multinational team – a beacon of global co-operation at a time of uncertainty and conflict. Against the odds, it remains “a wonderful indication of what humans can achieve” and contact from the ground to space “continues to be one of the best practical demonstrations of science and technology in action”, Mr McCague said. He paid tribute to the teachers who helped make for a successful “mission”.

It took four attempts to make contact through the crackling static sounds before Moghbeli responded: “Now I have you, loud and clear.”

She told one boy she doesn’t feel must stress or anxiety in space; “it’s interesting how quickly you adjust. It’s quite easy to get comfortable working up here.”

As for sleep, going around the Earth 16 times a day with a sunset or sunrise every 45 minutes is not good for circadian rhythms, so they adjust lighting on the ISS to convey daylight and night time.

There was particular interest on the possibility of bringing a pet to the ISS. Moghbeli said monkeys and dogs had gone to space in the past. As for the ISS, it was possible to bring them aboard depending on animal type but it might require some adjustments.

Nathanial Pituc (11) from Gardiner Street Primary School asked if the ISS broke down very often, and was surprised to be told that it did because “it has been up here for about a quarter of a century” – hence big emphasis on maintenance. While he is not sure if he will become a scientist, he said he enjoyed making contact with the spacecraft, which was “a pretty rare experience”.

Nadine Hoban (10) from Sacred Heart School, Killinarden, asked how Moghbeli made contact with her family and was told it was possible using an IP phone and satellite networks – video chatting with them once a week.

“It was great fun,” she added, after the ISS moved out of range. Loss of contact was greeted by cheers and a round of applause.

The link-up is part of TU Dublin’s space week, an initiative supported by Workday which aims to deliver engaging, fun-filled and educational events and activities for young people to awaken a deeper interest in science, technology, engineering, arts and maths through focusing on space and space travel.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times