OH Engineering Students Treated to a Special Presentation on Life in Space and Ham Radio Communication

Ms. Carole Perry captivated Olympic Heights Engineering Students with her presentation.

Ms. Carole Perry captivated Olympic Heights Engineering Students with her presentation.

The freshman and senior Olympic Heights Engineering Academy students received an out-of-this-world experience on Jan. 18 when Ms. Carole Perry, a renown international speaker on wide range of topics, (and in the interest of full disclosure, the grandmother of the writers of this article), visited OH to give a presentation about ham radio and life in space.

Perry has spoken to thousands of young people all around the world, including students in India and Germany, sparking their interests in ham radio and inviting them to get their Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ham radio licenses.

Perry is a volunteer for a non-profit organization called Radio Club of America (RCA) where she is a director and the chairperson of the Youth Activities program. She taught a class titled Introduction to Amateur Radio in a Staten Island middle school for 30 years, writing the curriculum for New York City schools for teachers incorporating ham radio in their schools.

Over the years, she and her students have had the incredible opportunity to communicate with over 16 different astronauts, and Perry has personally met famous individuals through her remarkable work including Marty Cooper (inventor of the cell phone), as well the producer of the hit TV show Last Man Standing, John Amodeo, and the show’s leading actor, Tim Allen.

The purpose of the OH visit, however, was to introduce ham radio as a communications skill to speak with astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Part of her goal was also to invite the students and teachers to study a license manual that she will send to them to get their own FCC license so that they could one day operate their own equipment.

Perry’s presentation comprised a variety of scientific and mathematical fun-facts related to outer space and the brave astronauts who dare to penetrate its mysterious boundaries. She commenced her speech with a brief introduction about ham radio and its practical uses, including the ability to send out wireless messages in times of need to anyone in the world in the event of an emergency or disaster.

“It is a valuable communications skill for emergencies because it does not require infrastructure (cell towers),” Perry explained to the classes. She also noted how operators and students have communicated with astronauts in space utilizing ham radio, asking them common questions such as, “What did it feel like when you were on the space shuttle?” or “How do you go to the bathroom in space?”

She then proceeded to test the knowledge of the aspiring OH students by asking them directly several mathematical questions such as, “What is the speed of the ISS traveling around earth?” Many of the students were surprised to learn that the answer to that question is five miles per second. As a reward for correct answers, freeze-dried packages of astronaut ice cream were distributed to the students.

The excitement and energy of the students was evident, as the teenagers eagerly leaned forward, engrossed by the captivating information and facts that were provided.  “I thought it was interesting how less than one percent of the total human population has ever gone into space, and how an astronaut can grow up to three percent of their height,” admited OH Astronaut Challenge Team senior Alex Glotov.

Following the questions, the assembled group was then given the unique opportunity to view a homemade astronaut DVD depicting life onboard the space shuttle. This DVD was presented to Perry on one of her invited trips to the Johnson Space Center where she met in person with the astronauts she and her students had spoken with on their ham radio at school.

The DVD demonstrates astronauts having fun in zero gravity, doing flips in the air, sleeping standing up velcroed to the wall, playing with toys such as yo-yos, eating, and putting their pants on both legs at the same time.  Everyone, including, teachers Mrs. Nirmala Arunachalam (Ms. Nimmi) and Ms. Laura Del Calvo, were totally mesmerized by what they learned.

Freshmen engineering teacher Del Calvo enjoyed the demonstration, claiming, “My favorite part of the presentation, of course, was watching the home video because it showed the daily routines of the astronauts which is something that is pretty rare to see.”

AP Computer Science/senior engineering teacher and sponsor for the Astronaut Space Challenge team Ms. Nimmi agrees with Del Calvo that the video was extremely interesting, expressing, “Seeing the informal side, or human side of astronauts, instead of the formal side was really nice to see.”

After a brief discussion about the video, Perry then distributed her custom made Morse Code Practice Oscillators (CPOs). CPOs are telegraph keys that allow students to practice Morse Code. For thirty years, this is how her students in Staten Island practiced and learned how to transmit in code on the ham radio. When she collected the telegraph keys at the end, the students were having so much fun that they were reluctant to give them up.

Ms. Nimmi found the demonstration and instructions on Morse Code an enlightening model for her own students.  “Engineers are problem-solvers,she indicated. “So it was interesting to see how Morse Code has solved problems especially those in disaster situations. It was also demonstrated how it can always come in handy to communicate with others.”

One student, Astronaut Challenge Team senior Alexa Cole, was especially impressed at seeing her textbooks come to life. Instead of just gathering her facts and knowledge from her textbook, she enjoyed seeing the actual images being applied on the DVD. “It was nice having the information that we learned being able to apply to other spheres of knowledge,” she commented.

Perry commented she was delighted at the enthusiastic responses; especially from girls, about the presentation. Freshman engineering student Kimberly Ticlavilca even responded that the video has sparked her curiosity about space and life on board the shuttle and has heightened her desire to find out more about the topic.

After the presentation concluded, Ms. Nimmi wanted to know what the next step would be for her to get her FCC license, at which point Perry volunteered to send the license manual. Other students also eagerly approached Perry to inform her of their desires to qualify for FCC licenses so that they can enhance their communications skills and speak to other hams worldwide.

The presentation was especially timely because on February 19, the OH Astronaut Challenge Team has been invited to do a Skype call with some of the astronauts on the ISS through Florida Atlantic University. In fact, the research that the kids are doing for the Astronaut Challenge is going to be presented to a real astronaut named Steve Swanson, whom the team had previously met in December.

In addition, the RCA website now features photos from the presentation under the Youth Activities tab; the images themselves are on a revolving image slider at https://www.radioclubofamerica.org/

Perry has dedicated herself to motivating the future generation of engineers, astronauts, scientists, and others to strive for the best and to bolster their sense of community and pride. As for OH, she was thrilled to interact with such engaging students, adding “It was fun to be part of the experience of watching young people get inspired to pursue creativity via technology.” Hopefully, they too will be able to achieve their dreams and shoot for the stars.

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