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Ham Radio and the International Space Station   Leave a comment


Credit: 15 December 2015 File Photo

Sure, everyone’s done it. You pick up the phone, take a quick glance at a number you’ve never seen before and dialed it. A voice connects at the other end and it sure sounds unfamiliar. Still, you ask for the person you intended to reach, hoping a friend or a wife or a kid answered the phone. And no, they’re not there because you’ve dialed the wrong number.

No biggie. It happens.

Except when that wrong number happens to originate from the International Space Station.

British astronaut Tim Peake mistakenly called someone and later tweeted about his wrong attempt and apology. I’m sure the person at the other end thought it was a bunch of bored kids pranking and though little of it until the story broke in the news. It just goes to show you that no matter who and where you are, accidents happen, even at the ISS.

But here’s something: do you know that anyone can contact the ISS? That’s right. If you’re a licensed ham radio operator, you have an opportunity to contact the ISS when it’s above your neck of the woods.

Last summer, Adrian Lane contacted the ISS while it flew over Britain. After sending out a call signal, Lane’s signal was received. He and an American astronaut spoke for about 45 seconds before contact was broken.

As it turns out, there are three ham radios aboard the ISS: an Ericsson MP-X handheld radio, a Kenwood TM D700 and a Kenwood D710.

John Phillips and Ham Radio

Credit: NASA – John Phillips at an ISS Ham Radio 

Obviously, their frequencies operates on different ones than Houston. Its purpose is exactly the same as Adrian Lane discovered – as a means of public education. Schools, for example, reach out to the inhabitants of the ISS to ask questions.

When astronauts have free time, they choose to make random, unschedule contact with whomever is choosing to reach them. Though their work schedules dictate their availability, an astronaut’s waking period is weekdays between 7:30 am – 7:30 pm UTC during the week, which means during that time they’re generally working. However, at either end of that schedule they might be available, as well as weekends, when more free time is also available.

Crews don’t scan but switch between frequencies, depending upon their location. Since the ISS travels rapidly, a person only has about 45 seconds worth of contact time.

If you are interested in contacting the ISS, visit this excellent website hosted by Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS). It details location prediction maps, frequencies, and everything else you’ll need to set up contact and once you do, how to receive a QSL card to prove it! And though it’s entirely random, you might just get lucky like Adrian Lane.



Mal de Mac   3 comments



So there I was, minding my own business and typing last Thursday’s blog entry – something about creating a new genre of fiction – when I thought I’d put in a handy, useful link.  There were a few books I wanted to gather up links for, so I set about searching for the first – Stephen King’s “On Writing.”  Since I was in a bit of a rush, trying to finish the blog before I made dinner, I noticed there were several Amazon site links for that book.  That’s pretty common.  I clicked on one to copy.  Within nanoseconds, up came several pop-up windows telling me I had a security alert – one pop-up window literally spoke to me – and behind the speaking pop-up I could see something was downloading.

On top of that, a phone number appeared telling me I must call it immediately.  Foolishly I did, out of idle curiosity – and I asked immediately who it was I was speaking to and how much this is going to cost.  Not getting any real answer, I hung up.  Okay, okay, you’re all going to call me an idiot for doing that.  But you know what?  I was panicked and on sensory overload.  Normally, I’m as sensible as galoshes in a rainstorm.  In this instance, I was a hair’s breadth from collapsing into a puddle of goo.

Then I shut down my computer, closed its display/lid over the keyboard and stared at it, as if experiencing a bad dream or a silly one-off that’d go away the moment I lifted the lid….which I did.  Turning it back on, the evil pop-ups still lurked on the screen, menacing my desktop and covering my blog entry.  I couldn’t close the pop-up windows, so I closed the browser.

Andrew, my husband, just happened to call and I spewed out the rapidly-disintigrating chain of events.  My entire life flashed before my eyes (oh, c’mon, you can’t tell me your computer isn’t your entire center of being?).  Calmly, he asked me to recite the series of events for him.  Desperate to wish this unfortunate series of missteps away, I did, hoping for a seed of a solution.

“Did you back everything up?” Andrew asked.

“Well, most of it…and I thought our server did that,” I replied.

Okay, now this brings up two issues: “most of it” and “server.”

“Most of it” means I had my first book, latest draft, the one my agent now has, saved on two sticks.  I’ve mailed it to myself, too.  My latest book, a work-in-progress, saved on a stick and the server, but as I was working on it, not the very latest, up-to-the-minute version.  Old incarnations/drafts of my first book – yes, on a stick drive, but not the server.  Other files were saved on stick drives but I know I had other random files not saved anywhere.

“Server” means if our auto backup to the server backed up my work-in-progress book while the malware infected my computer…don’t want to think what might have come next…firewalls do come in handy…but so does disconnecting the internet from the wireless router.  Nothing gets past if there’s no way it can get in, period.

Grabbing the travel case, I shoved my Mac into it, yelled something to my son like he can help himself to whatever’s in the fridge, hopped into my car and jammed onto the rush-hour traffic on the highway.  I’m kicking myself, repeating what a dope I am for allowing this to happen, and am especially unforgiving about calling the number.  When did I become soooo stupid?  Sped like lightning to our local Geek Squad, stood in line while fighting to maintain calm.  The woman who stood next to me made me laugh – her smartphone kept turning off and on and she was powerless to stop it.  It was quite funny, actually – even she was laughing.  “If I dropped it, yeah, sure, I can see something like this happening, but I didn’t do anything!  This is all this phone’s idea,” she said.

The techie calls me forward and I swallow before explaining my actions to him.  I feel like an idiot.  With the manner of a emergency room doctor, in a soothing, calm voice he said, “You’re not the first one this has happened to, nor will you be the last.  Macs are increasingly vulnerable to both malware and viruses.  Give me a minute,” he said, disappearing through plastic sheets into a back room.  After about five tension-filled minutes, he came out and said, “All right.  Here’s the good news.  From what we can tell, the malware didn’t execute, so that makes this situation a whole lot easier.  It seems we can save everything, clean ‘er out and make everything right again, but it’ll take a few days since it’s the summer, people are on vacation and we’re short-staffed right now.  So the bad news is, we have a seven-day turnaround right now.  If you can wait that long, we’ll do the job.”

All I heard is, “The patient’s going to live.”

I gratefully thank him as I hand over my credit card, ignoring the ridiculous amount it’s going to cost to repair it.  At least the service contract will last two years and the software that goes to protect it can be installed on two more computers.

It’s not until I get in the car and am on the highway that I realize it’s dark and 9:00 pm…and haven’t had dinner.  Ah well, not hungry at all, after this.  I arrive at home and walk in the house, handing Andrew the software as he asks me for details.  He installs the software and it scans all of our networked files, as well as those on our hard drives and everything comes up clean (we have several computers).  In the end, this story turns out well.  I’ll get my computer back in a few days, I have another one to use but still, when I think how this could have turned out?

My God, what a nightmare.

Folks, drop whatever you’re doing RIGHT NOW AND BACK EVERYTHING UP!!!


Posted August 2, 2015 by seleneymoon in science fiction, Technology, Writing

Tagged with , ,

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