Four Toronto college students have accomplished a technological feat that their teachers are calling a first.
The Humber College seniors made contact with the International Space Station Monday with a radio system they designed and built themselves.
School officials say that, to their knowledge, that's never been accomplished by students at the college level. Only about a dozen professional radio engineers or graduate-level university engineering students have previously been successful in contacting the station, said Humber instructor Mark Rector.
The project got off the ground about a year ago as the students looked for a way to apply knowledge gained from their radio communication courses.
After an anxious few hours of waiting for their big moment — and a few last-second technical glitches — the team sent their signal into space at about 12:29 p.m. Monday.
The first message got no response, but after a crackle of static and a second attempt, the voice of astronaut Sandra Magnus filled the room, and the excited students peppered her with questions.
They had a 10-minute window to talk to Magnus, during which they asked some technical questions and passed on a few queries from contest winners at the school.
One student asked how well the International Space Station is protected from debris, while another wanted to know how it feels to see Earth from space.
"Up here I've seen the world from a different viewpoint," Magnus replied. "I see it as a whole system, I don't see it as a group of individual people or individual countries.
"We are one huge group of people and we're all in it together."
While school contacts with the space station are routinely made through the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station program, these contacts are traditionally made with assistance from the American Radio Relay League, the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation and NASA.
"It's an incredible feat of undertaking and technology, and I'd just like to say I'm really, really proud of this team," said Rector.
"They're playing way, way above their league today."