Richmond high school students became the first in Metro Vancouver and the fourth in B.C. to use ham radios to speak with an astronaut on board the International Space Station on Thursday.

More than 1,000 students at H. J. Cambie Secondary School watched a handful of their peers ask questions of Japanese astronaut Koicho Wakata as he travelled 430 kilometres above earth.

"It is not every day you can speak to astronaut," said Grade 12 student Nica Gatchalian.

The connection, which used ham radios assembled at home by members of an amateur radio club, was very weak and only allowed for a few seconds of conversation, in part because it had to be made as the ISS was above the school.

Because the space station is travelling at a speed of about 28,000 kilometres per hour, that window lasted only about seven to nine minutes. 

Astronaut Chris Hadfield skyrocketed interest

The public's interest in space skyrocketed when astronaut Chris Hadfield became the first Canadian to command the ISS — a milestone that happened one year ago on Thursday.

"I saw his music video in space and all the videos he did answering people's question. It is so appealing to me because it is the sort of job where you don't have to sit at a desk," said Grade 12 student Richard Marohn.

Thursday's event seemed to have a similar impact.

"For this week, we didn't just have the event, we wanted to bring the students into it. For me, in elementary school I never learned about space, so this opportunity may be on that can ... bring back space into the curriculum," said Grade 12 student Janice Callange.

Richmond science teacher wants kids to dream

Thursday's event was made possible by Karen Ibbott, one of the school's science teachers. She spent 15 months trying to land the opportunity for her class.

"If today's event makes them think about another direction or just makes them think or dream, just like it was for me ... I would be very happy," she said.

With files from the CBC's Richard Zussman