Wednesday, April 26, 2006

First Ham in Space: W5LFL

In 1965 Owen K. Garriott was one of the first six Astronauts selected by NASA. His first space flight aboard Skylab in 1973 set a new record for time in space. The bar was a littler lower then. they were in space for 60 days, which was double the previous record.

His second space flight was aboard Spacelab-1 in 1983. It was s shorter trip of only 10 days. Over 70 separate experiments were conducted, most of which were for the testing of spacelab-1 itself for research. It was in this ten day window that he operated the world's first Amateur Radio Station from space, W5LFL. This part of the project was called The Shuttle Amateur Radio EXperiment (SAREX.) He accomplished two-way contact with about 350 other hams and also received approximately 10,000 QSL cards from 23 countries. One of these contacts was none other than JY1, operated by King Hussein of Jordan. All audio was recorded by NASA.
Audio posted here:

His transceiver was hand-built by the Motorola Amateur Radio Club in Florida. His antenna was a directional ring radiator built by hand at Lockheed, which then got the low tech installation of "being taped to a window."

Since then, Ham radio has become an important activity on dozens of successive Shuttle flights, Space Station MIR and the International Space Station. Astronauts who are licensed ham radio operators participate in SAREX during their free time periods allocated to the crew was accepted by NASA.
SAREX is sponsored jointly by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation (AMSAT) and NASA. Students and amateur radio operators can attempt to contact astronauts flying on a SAREX mission through voice, packet (computer) radio, or television, depending on what equipment is flying on the shuttle and on what equipment is available on the ground. Info here.