Locals talk to space station


CRESCO - You’ve heard the line, “Houston. We’ve had a problem.” That was when astronauts from Apollo 13 communicated there had been an explosion.
Back in April 1970, the technology was amazing to be able to talk to the astronauts aboard the spacecraft.
Well times have changed! Today, NASA can still talk to astronauts, but school children from around the world and even a pair of brothers in little old Cresco, Iowa also can talk to the men and women on the space station. A person just needs the equipment, credentials and lots of patience!
All of that came together on May 29. During the 6 p.m. news, Ernie Martin learned the Midwest would be able to actually see the space station as it flew overhead. He got online to find the exact time it would be overhead. He shared on his Facebook page: “At 9:33:30 p.m., I keyed up the hand-held and said, ‘NA1SS WØAUU’.....and THERE THEY WERE!” He talked 20 seconds then let his brother, Lee Walter, talk for two minutes. That’s about how long it takes for the space station to fly across the sky.  “You can not do that with CB radio or a cell phone,” Martin noted.
It seems unbelievable how far technology has come. Martin and Walter can talk to astronauts in space on a hand-held instrument!
Although it sounds easy enough, Martin explains the space station is a puzzle. “Several pieces had to come together for us to talk to them. We need to be able to see it. We do it at night, so we can see the reflection of the space station. It is the brightest thing in the sky and fast-moving!”
There is usually about one chance per month when all variables are prime to connect with outer space.
The second piece of the puzzle is that schools come first. 
If a person does reach someone on the space station, they will ask if there are any schools on the line. They get first chance to talk.
The third piece of the puzzle is whether or not the folks on board have time to talk. 
Martin has had the honor of speaking to them 4-5 times in the past five years. “They talk about what experiments they are doing or what they saw out the window,” he said. Other ham operators can get in on the conversation as well. “It’s a huge party line with ham and short-wave listeners!” he joked. “Even the lowest class ham radio operator can talk to [the space station].”
“[On May 29],they were looking at lightning storms west of us and how severe it was.”
The longest time available to talk is about two-and-a-half to three minutes because of how fast the vessel moves. “At this frequency, with a hand-held, it is basically line of sight,” Martin explained.
Martin first got interested in ham radios as a student of Bud Wetherford. “I got my license when I was 13 in an electronics/pre-engineering class. I know a lot of engineers who came out of that class, besides myself.” 
At that time, if a person wanted a transmitter, he had to build it himself, which is exactly what the Howard County native did. “I built my first transmitter from parts from an old black and white TV.” Some of the parts he used included a power supply transformer, rectifier tube (5Y3), oscillater tube (6SN7) and transmitter tube (6L6). “That was recycling,” he laughed.
Martin took that knowledge and worked on several Navy oceanographic research ships, the U. S. N. S KANE, her sister ship the Silas Bent, the Lee, the FLIP and several others.
 Anyone can become a ham operator by studying online or purchasing books. Finding equipment in person is a little harder. Martin says he likes to visually check out any equipment he wants to purchase, which can be a problem. “There is one store in Milwaukee and maybe one in Minneapolis. Otherwise, pieces can be purchased online.
Besides talking with astronauts on his ham radio, Martin has been fortunate enough to speak with King Hussein (JY1) and his wife, the queen, King of Spain Juan Carlos (EAøJC), President of Italy (1øFCG), Barry Goldwater (K7UGA), Jimmy Stewart (N6KGB), Donny Osmond (KA7EVD), Arthur Godfrey (K4LIB), Burl Ives (KA5HVK), Ronnie Milsap (WB4KCG), Andy Devine (WB6RFR), Roy Neal (K6DVE) and Walter Cronkite (WB2GSD).
Martin has had his license for 59 years and has talked to thousands of hams around the world.
Besides being fun and informational, ham radios are also very important during emergency situations. When the Twin Towers were going up in New York City, they were the tallest buildings around. All the companies wanted their cell antennas on top. When the towers came down, it was chaos. Ham radio operators from all over offered their help, even giving their hand-held units to firefighters and police.
When cell phones don’t work and public services communications are tied up, that leaves ham radios to help police, Red Cross, Salvation Army, hospitals and fire departments.
Martin and Walter belong to Tri-State Amateur Radio Club. Membership has been declining over the past few years, but the brothers welcome all sorts of new members. Give Walter a call at 563-547-2366.

Cresco Times

Phone: 563-547-3601
Fax: 563-547-4602

Cresco TPD
214 N. Elm Street
Cresco, IA 52136

Sign Up For Breaking News

Stay informed on our latest news!

Manage my subscriptions

Subscribe to Breaking News feed