Astronaut’s a Ham on the Fly

Associated Press

The international space station’s returning skipper marked the 100th anniversary of the first trans-Atlantic wireless contact Wednesday by chatting with youngsters at the exact spot history was made.

Astronaut Frank Culbertson spoke for several minutes via ham radio to teenagers gathered at the Signal Hill National Historic Site of Canada in St. John’s, Canada.

The students asked Culbertson, who’s wrapping up a four-month space station mission, how he bathes and brushes his teeth in orbit, how he gets along with his crew mates in such close quarters and whether he misses home.


His answers? He uses damp cloths and no-rinse shampoo, swallows the toothpaste since there’s no sink, gets along fine with his colleagues and sometimes wishes he were home.

The contact occurred as the space station and docked space shuttle Endeavour soared over the North Atlantic, off the Newfoundland coast. It was part of an educational program at Signal Hill celebrating Guglielmo Marconi’s success in receiving a wireless signal sent there from Cornwall, England, on Dec. 12, 1901. The signal was dot-dot-dot, the letter S in Morse code.

“It was only 100 years ago. That was such a gamble, such a big thing,” said Ken Whalen, a member of the Society of Newfoundland Radio Amateurs who helped coordinate Wednesday’s event. “In 100 years, how much the world has changed,” with astronauts in space talking to ham radio operators on Earth.

Culbertson managed to answer 10 questions from the students before the station and shuttle moved too far away and the connection was lost.

Over the weekend, Culbertson passed the space station command over to Russian cosmonaut Yuri Onufrienko, who’s settling in for a stay of almost half a year along with two American astronauts.

Culbertson moved into the space station in August with two Russian cosmonauts.