On Thursday, February 11th at approximately 6.09pm, history was made at The Royal Masonic School for Girls in Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire, as the school became the first school in the world to make video contact with the International Space Station. RMS girls, staff and parents, as well as visitors from local schools and community, were treated to amateur radio and video contact via Ham TV with British ESA astronaut Tim Peake direct from the ISS.
RMS was one of 10 schools across the UK, and the only all-girls school, to be selected for contact with the ISS. According to Diana Rose, Headmistress, the strength of the School’s submission during a very rigorous and competitive selection process was due to its emphasis on STEM subjects within the curriculum and the focus on encouraging girls to view STEM careers as within their grasp.
Supported by equipment from ARISS (Amateur Radio on the International Space Station) and large team of enthusiasts, RMS student Jennifer Ferguson and a team of girls, who had certified as Amateur Radio operators in preparation for the live link up, led the process of contacting the ISS. As Peake’s voice responded to the radio call, a voluminous cheer went up from the crowd and selected RMS girls began to ask Tim a series of questions about life and work on the ISS during his 10 minute ‘flyover’ of the UK. Questions included ‘If you have hiccups in space, do you bounce around?’, ‘What was the first word that came to mind when you saw the earth from space?’ and ‘What is the most surprising everyday object on the ISS that you did not expect to find?.’ An even louder cheer erupted as Tim’s face appeared on the video screen and the crowd was treated to a view of Tim inside the ISS.
According to Natalie Timoney, Head of Science at RMS, initial contact was the most amazing moment of the evening:
“The look on the girls’ faces and the immense cheer that erupted from the audience when Tim’s voice came across on the radio was incredible. The complete silence that followed was evidence of the amazement felt by all those watching.” The contact lasted approximately 8 minutes and ended with another loud cheer from all those watching.
Audience members were also given the opportunity, prior to contact, to ask questions such as ‘How is space, as portrayed in the movies, different than reality?’ to employees of various aerospace industries, including Libby Kennedy from the UK Space Agency.
In an effort to promote STEAM subjects – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths, RMS girls aged 3-18 had the opportunity to engage in a variety of space-related activities in the days preceding the main event. These included creating a model of the ISS, making a comet, creating a menu for astronauts and an essay competition entitled ‘The journey to becoming an Astronaut.’
During a whole school assembly earlier in the week, the girls were inspired by former RMS student Susan Buckle, of the UK Space Agency, who entertained the girls with her tales of teaching psychology to astronauts, including Tim Peake, in an effort to help them cope with the mental and physical strains of space flight. Most amusing was a video of herself floating around with Tim and two other members of the flight team in a zero gravity environment on the Zero G airplane, as part of Tim’s prepared for his space flight. Susan is currently responsible for the educational programme about his time in space and said she was thrilled to have her old school selected to speak to Tim from the ISS.
The chance to experience a live video and audio link with a British astronaut on the ISS is something the 600-strong audience is unlikely to ever forget. Hopefully, Tim, and all those who contributed to the evening, will always remember the enormous cheers they received for their roles in making the event possible.
A video of the contact can be found here: http://bit.ly/RMSTimPeake