By Jeremiah Dobruck
4:21 PM PST, December 6, 2012
Students at Kline School in Costa Mesa made an especially long-distance call Thursday, first to northern Italy and then bounced by ham radio to the International Space Station.
Twenty students had been prepped and handed scripts with their questions as required by NASA. They were lined up in front of a microphone, waiting in a silent but crowded room on campus.
"We don't want to lose even a split second of time, so they're holding their papers and maybe shaking," said Susan Kline, founder and director of the school.
They were about to speak to Cmdr. Kevin Ford in orbit as part of the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station program.
The operator across the globe began reciting calls signs as he tried to raise Ford, once, twice, and after switching frequencies, the astronaut's voice came in through the speaker on the third try.
"This is OR4ISS loud and clear on Channel 46," Ford said and began answering a rapid-fire list of questions
"Isaac, we can go anywhere in the space station we want to at any time, no clearance required anywhere. ... Of course we would need special permission to go outside the space station, over."
"Well, we tried to see [the solar eclipse] Tyler, but we couldn't. They told us there would be a big dark splotch on the ground in the distance like a shadow. We really wanted to see it but we couldn't, over."
"I think we'll be back on the moon with a habitation there. I hope the United States is part of the team, because somebody in the world will do it ... Maybe it won't take 40 years, maybe it will only be 20, over."
Doug Borcoman, the parent of a former Kline student and an amateur radio operator, helped the Mesa Verde private school set up contact. He said his heart was still beating hard afterward.
"You always have that moment of doubt that there's some kind of problem with the telebridge or some other thing," he said, crediting their contact in Italy and the ARISS moderator for running a superb call. "I'm so excited about this."
By the students' measure, the experience was out of this world.
"It was more than I expected," sixth-grader Brandon True said. "I can't believe I actually heard his voice."
As the ISS sped toward the horizon over Italy, static cut into the transmission as Ford explained astronauts do see shooting stars, they just look down at them instead of up as they burn up through the Earth's atmosphere.
Kline students managed to squeeze in all 20 of their questions with a few dozen seconds to spare.
Science teacher Sean Butler raised the microphone high as the crowded clapped and cheered, thanking Ford before he signed off:
"Thank you very much. OR4ISS out."