Rainbow Middle students speak to an astronaut

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By Sarrah Peters, News Editor

Rainbow Middle School students experienced a once in a lifetime opportunity when they returned to school on Wednesday, January 4. The students spoke to astronaut Robert Shane Kimbrough, who is currently aboard the International Space Station, through a radio as the space station passed over the United States.

Fifth graders from Southside and John S. Jones traveled to Rainbow Middle to attend the assembly.

To allow the students to talk to the International Space Station, the Gadsden Amateur Radio Club and the Rainbow City  Fire Department placed an antenna on the roof of the school’s gym. The Gadsden Amateur Radio Club then used a simple two-way radio to contact the space station.

The window for contacting the space station was very brief.

“This thing is moving over 17,000 miles per hour,” said Radio Amateur Satellite Coorporation District Coordinator Tim Cunningham. “It circles the Earth every 90 minutes. So it moves fast. It will be here and gone in ten minutes. I can assure you that it won’t stop for us.”

Because of how fast the International Space Station moves, the computer tracks the orbit of the station, and moves the antenna accordingly.

Student Catherine Carlton initiated contact, then students asked Kimbrough a range of 19 questions. The first question asked was why he became an astronaut. Kimbrough responded that he saw the moon landing as a child.

“It made me want to do something that very few people had ever done,” said Kimbrough.

The questions moved from Kimbrough’s childhood inspirations to the astronaut training process. When asked what the hardest aspect of training was, Kimbrough responded that physically, it was training for space walks, but mentally, it was learning how to speak Russian.

Sixth grade student Rylie Kitchens asked, “Before launch, what were you thinking?”

Kimbrough responded that he felt relaxed while waiting to launch and that he “was right where I was supposed to be.”

Students also asked about Kimbrough talking to his family, medical issues in space, performing chores without gravity, washing dirty laundry and even voting in the presidential election in November from space.

Kimbrough invited the students to watch the space walk online today, January 6.

After the program, Rainbow Middle Principal Matt Brooks thanked Ray Forrester of the Gadsden Amateur Radio Club and Rainbow Middle science teachers Jennifer Kilgo and Joy Russell for their hard work making the event happen.

Rainbow Middle School is one of only 12 schools or organizations in the nation chosen to participate in the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) program.

According to a press release, “The primary goal of the ARISS program is to engage young people in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) activities and raise their awareness of space exploration, space communications and related areas of study and career possibilities.”

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