Rockets blast off at Mill Springs: Students contact astronaut with ham radio

Mill Springs Academy in Alpharetta links up connection with NASA



ALPHARETTA, Ga. – After a successful radio transmission to outer space, students at Mill Springs Academy had the opportunity to speak with astronaut Christopher Cassidy as he traveled in the International Space Station on Wednesday, Sept. 4.

Following a few failed attempts to contact Cassidy, students broke out into a roar of cheering after finally hearing the astronaut respond back loud and clear. The station was approaching the coast of Mexico and was 414 miles up in the sky traveling at 17,000 miles an hour when contact was made.

“Good morning to everyone at Mill Springs Academy,” Cassidy said. “Great to hear everyone from [the] International Space Station.”

Cassidy, who is on his second space flight, took time to answer questions from students ranging from, “What’s the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen in space?” to “What happens when you cry in space?” He answered as many questions in the allotted time until the signal was ultimately lost.

John Kludt, president of North Fulton Amateur Radio League (NFARL), was in charge of initiating the contact to Cassidy. KK4OVR, the school’s club call sign, was used to make all the radio exchanges.

“It’s always anxious at the start until you get the contact. We had a little trouble there, but once we got it, it was fun to watch the kids get so excited – that’s what makes this so neat,” Kludt said.

Science teacher Martha Muir made the event possible. After starting the school’s amateur radio club at Mill Springs Academy, Muir submitted an application to NASA last November that gave them the opportunity to contact the space station.

Muir said it was one big community effort and her favorite part was seeing the students react after the successful contact.

One of those students was Rosa Brown, who also had the chance to ask Cassidy the first question. She said that while she was nervous at first, speaking with the astronaut was one of the coolest and most exciting things she’d ever done.

Another student speaker, Tommy Sweeney, was equally excited.

“Everyone was so happy,” he said. “I was really glad to have the experience.”

Following the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) radio contact, students had the chance to launch over 50 egg-containing model rockets that they crafted. The launches were all part of the NASA Summer of Innovation Grant project that both the seventh- and eighth-graders have been working on in their science classes, according to Mill Springs Academy Communications Director Cheri Harwood.

“It’s such a cool thing for them to be able to do,” Harwood said.

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