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Gadgets, Science

Ever wanted to speak to an astronaut from home? This guy did, and shows us how

What is the most objectively impressive thing you’ve ever achieved in your shed? Don’t bother answering, because British ‘ham’ radio enthusiast Adrian Lane has you beat, after he accomplished the astonishing feat of making contact with the International Space Station as it orbited the planet, around 200 miles above his Gloucestershire home.

In his own words, the conversation – as reported by biztekmojo.com – went as follows:

“The adrenaline was pumping a little bit. I said to them how wonderful Earth must look from up there. They said, ‘Ooh Adrian, it’s amazing, you can’t imagine what it looks like from up here.'” Adrian said.

“He said it was very dark but when you look down at Earth it is full of colour. I basically asked who he was and how things were in space that day. It was such a rush.”

This is a big deal in Britain, as the BBC informs us that astronaut, scientist and national mancrush Major Tim Peake contacted a high school in Powys, Wales, using the same technology.

So what exactly is this black magic that is allowing regular joes to communicate with astronauts?

Well the origins of radio are cause for debate, regarding who has a better claim to the discovery between Nikolai Tesla and Guglielmo Marconi, but what is known for certain is that radio waves have been used to transmit data since the end of the 19th century.

For a more in-depth understanding of the science behind the scenes then look no further, but the basic principle is as follows;

  • Data, in this example sound, is converted to an electrical signal by a device, such as a microphone
  • The electrical signal is then manipulated to only be accessible through certain channels through a process known as modulation
  • The signal is sent and received between two devices tuned to detect specific frequencies
  • The signal is the converted back into its original state, for example that one Rihanna song you’ve had stuck in your head for three years

One aspect that has helped make radio such a popular form of communication over the years is how cheap and (relatively) easy it is to make use of. And that’s where the weird and wonderful world of amateur – or ‘ham’ – radio and all its astronaut bothering possibilities comes into play.

In the words of the Wireless Institute of Australia, amateur radio is “a multifaceted and easy to learn communications hobby, through which you can meet other like-minded people and have fun. It has become very diverse and is shared by three million people throughout the world.”

There are some – quite simple – licensing and proficiency tests to go through before being able to transmit, and there is, of course, some expense incurred initially, but what we are essentially discussing here is a global members-only club of tech geeks who are more than capable, when the mood takes them, of having a live conversation with someone who isn’t even on the freaking planet!

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