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TOWNSEND — Students at the Hawthorne Brook Middle School got the thrill of a lifetime as they had a nine minute conversation with the crew of the International Space Station.

The contact was set up by the Amateur Radio of the International Space Station, (ARISS) and was joined by the American Radio Relay League, the Nashoba Valley Amateur Radio Club, the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation and NASA.

Science teacher Marilyn Richardson, who is also a licensed amateur radio operator, made the radio contact with the Expedition’s 12 astronauts, Commander William McArthur and Russian Flight Engineer Valery Tokarev, as the space travelers were within radio range.

“NAISS, NAISS this is NICHS, Hawthorne Brook calling. Do you copy? Over.”

Static was the first response, but on the fourth try, a voice came back, “NICHS, NICHS, good copy. Over.” Communication began at that moment to a silenced, but very happy group of students.

Twenty grade six, seven and eight students had prepared questions for the astronauts and the replies were transmitted immediately.

Amateur radio operator Joel Magid said the waiting list for school children to speak live with the space station “is two to three years. The astronauts are traveling at 18,000 miles per hour or 300 miles per minute, so we have no more that a ten minute connection.”

Richardson said Hawthorne Brook “is one of the first 200 schools anywhere to be able to do this project. It is very exciting.”

Richardson continued, “for many years, people have dreamed of talking to aliens in outer space. Today we have the opportunity to talk to humans in outer space. We are celebrating the fifth anniversary of human presence on the space station.”

Questions for McArthur ranged form what could happen if an astronaut got seriously sick in space to if colors on earth look the same from the space station.

Student Nick Anderson asked McArthur, “What experiments about life in space or on any other planets are going on?”

To which McArthur replied, “We are the experiments.”

Student Kristin Sundberg asked the astronauts if “the space station can help identify natural disasters on earth before they happen.”

McArthur responded, “we help to identify things that are visible to the eye. We saw and photographed Hurricane Wilma when she was forming.”

Student Carrie Coughlin asked how it feels “to be two inches taller as soon as you get into space.”

McArthur said, “the first couple of days up here you notice you have lower back pain because that is where it stretches you out.”

Richardson, who is an avid space studier has photographs of her standing with Sally Ride, the first woman in space; a signed photo of Mercury astronaut John Glenn; and is also photographed with Barbara Morgan, who was the alternate astronaut for the teacher in space program.

“I have a special interest in space and this was very exciting. I was just disappointed that we only got 19 out of 20 questions to the space station, but it was wonderful we got to speak to them,” Richardson said.