PEORIA HEIGHTS – It was not the scheduled lesson, but perhaps it was for middle school students who gathered in a high school on Monday for their shared interest in STEM: science, technology, engineering, and math. 19659002] Coordinators prepared the event for more than a year and made arrangements with NASA to initiate radio contact with astronauts aboard the International Space Station.
"You learned amateur radio and started a balloon ride at high altitude," said Judy Schmidt with the extension of the University of Illinois. "It's really a great opportunity for kids to get a spark on STEM."
They also learned in real time on Monday about the importance of redundant systems.
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Like a computer made during the Academy earlier this summer, showing the space station's position in real time on a large projection screen in the middle of the gymnasium, students stood behind a microphone with questions in their hands hoping to come through a dozen requests the space station circled the radio area.
The static crackling through the speakers suddenly gave way to a voice at 10.30. Contact was established. The thirteen-year-old Marg Arist Conahan, who will enter the eighth grade at St. Philomena this autumn, was the first in line and ready to ask for astronaut relationships near the space station.
But the connection disappeared as soon as Johnson powered the student microphones – a blown fuse, as he later explained, was likely to hinder the entire system.
Luckily – and as required by NASA – Johnson set up a backup radio and was ready to go. Within minutes, Conahan and a few others had a chance to talk to astronauts in space.
"I've always been interested in STEM because it's a career path I want to go," Conahan said after the event. "I really like science, I've always had a connection with it."
This connection came on Monday via a less powerful but no less important backup radio.
"We expected about eight or nine minutes of conversation, but we only have five – that's just one of the things that NASA deals with all the time," Johnson said. "That's why we have the backup system."
Matt Buedel can be reached at 686-3154 or mbü[email protected] Follow him on Twitter @JournoBuedel.