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Cambridge Bay students talk with astronaut on board space station

Students in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, made a very special long distance call this week when students connected with the International Space Station.

'Once in a lifetime opportunity' connected Arctic community with American astronaut by radio

Students from Kiilinik High School and Kullik elementary in Cambridge Bay gathered to talk to American astronaut Jeff Williams on the space station via radio on Wednesday. (ARISS)

Students in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, made a very special long distance call this week when students connected with the International Space Station.

On Wednesday, students from Kiilinik High School and Kullik elementary got 15 minutes to talk with American astronaut Jeff Williams.

First Air helped bring in representatives from the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station group to set up the contact, which was done via telephone link with a ground station in Australia.

This was Kiilinik Principal Roman Mahnic's second contact event — there was one at his previous school, Samuel Hearne secondary in Inuvik, N.W.T., in 2009.

"It becomes really exciting when you're waiting for the contact," he said.

"And then as soon as you're able to say 'hello' and know you've just contacted someone who's in the space station, it's really neat."

'A once in a lifetime opportunity'

ARISS representative Steve Macfarlane says part of the challenge is getting across how rare the opportunity is and how much work goes into making a brief radio contact with an astronaut in space possible.

That means convincing students that "this is really happening — you're talking to somebody that's not on the planet. You've got to set that up for the students, especially the younger ones.

"And then, once his voice starts crackling through the radio … Initially the connection is not good, it improves and then it disintegrates as the space station moves away."

Macfarlane said students took full advantage of the few minutes they had to speak with someone orbiting the Earth.

"One or two of the questions were very sophisticated," he said.

"One young boy had a question that was quite long, but even Jeffrey Williams reacted to it because it was a very soul-searching question about us being in space."

Leading up to the radio contact, the group did a presentation on science and engineering, including an appearance by a humanoid robot, whom Macfarlane said is "very popular."

"He gets up and he talks to the students and they love him."

Mahnic said having so many people from the community, including elders, attend the event was the best part.

"We may never have this opportunity again," he said.

"If it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, that people took time out of their day to come and be part of it, I think that was the most significant thing for me."

with files from Michael Salomonie

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