DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 3, 2024) – None of the students participating in the International Space Station radio communication transmissions on Wednesday were alive 40 years ago when Owen Garriott, on board the space shuttle Columbia in 1983, became the very first astronaut to communicate with amateur radio operators on the ground, from space.

Connecting with the International Space Station during the 10-minute flyover on Wednesday through a partnership with the ARISS (Amateur Radio on the International Space Station) Program, and NASA, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Amateur Radio Club hosted an event for five Volusia County schools, allowing students interested in science, technology, engineering, and math to speak directly to NASA astronaut Matthew Dominck, Commander of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-8 mission.

Volusia County middle school students pose questions to NASA astronaut Matthew Dominick onboard the International Space Station on Wednesday, April 3, 2024 at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. ©Flagler News Weekly

17 students were given 10 minutes to ask their pre-selected questions and the astronaut answered each in quick succession as students of all ages shared their inner thoughts.

Questions included:

  1. Did anyone inspire you to be an astronaut?
  2. What are some of the most unexpected things you’ve seen on Earth, in space?
  3. What is the most fun experiment you’ve done on board?
  4. One is one thing that is more fun to do on the space station than on Earth?
  5. What might you have done with your life if you hadn’t become an astronaut?

His takeaway advice for those listening?

“We talked about the secret weapon, discipline, and how that can get you really far in life, but the other thing I think, get in a field you love to do. Go find a job, or go do something you love doing and get paid to do it. It will never, ever feel like working when you go do something you love,” said Dominick.

All Part of the Team

President of the ERAU Amateur Radio Club 17-year-old Flagler County resident Hope Lea has set her career path toward being an astronaut. With her sights set on the University of Colorado’s Space Medicine residency after earning her degrees in electrical engineering and medicine, she is full steam ahead.

No nonsense, the team led by Hope Lea and outgoing club president Paul Bartolemea, was focused and professional from the set up to the breakdown, and Lea was pleased when the ISS contact event went off without a hitch.

Dr. Jim Gregory, Dean of the College of Engineering at Embry‑Riddle Aeronautical University Daytona Beach campus with ERAU student and President of the ERAU Amateur Radio Club, Hope Lea. ©Flagler News Weekly

“We have been preparing for about a year now to get our equipment ready, to figure out the organization of everything, to work with ARISS and NASA, and everything came together very nicely,” she said.

“It went smoother than expected. The equipment operation was flawless, we had secondary stations and we didn’t need to touch them. We managed to get all 17 students in and had some extra time to ask the astronaut a question. I don’t know how often that ever gets to happen. We’re really proud of the kids and our members.”

ERAU Amateur Radio Club Founder and Outgoing President Paul Bartolemea works with current President Hope Lea to facilitate the ISS contact event. ©Flagler News Weekly

In an era where science and technology are no longer just for boys, the licensed amateur radio operator said she doesn’t experience any differences in her field.

“I never really notice the difference because everyone in this community, it doesn’t matter. You like space? Cool, you’re one of us, at this school. You like aerospace? This is the place to be. It doesn’t really matter who you are, you just come, you like space, then you fit right in,” she said.

ERAU Engineering Professors David Richter and Noemi Liberati helped support the day’s programming at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. ©Flagler News Weekly

The ERAU students’ leadership during the ISS contact event served as a role model for the students in the audience who may one day see themselves as the next generation of STEM leaders.

“You kind of have to find your love specifically, and then there are mentors, local clubs,” she said.

“We went and visited a lot of their classrooms and so I’ve already met some of the students. There were so many who wanted to ask questions, a lot of runner ups who weren’t picked because you can only pick so many. It was very fun working in the classrooms with them,” said Lea.

Charlie Sufana, an ARISS Mentor with nearly 100 ISS contacts to his credit served as backup for the primary radio contact setup. ARISS has facilitated more than 1,700 ISS contacts since inception in the early 2000s, and Sufana said he loves working with the kids as they navigate the STEM field.

“This is a stepping stone. I think they’ll probably remember this,” he said.

ARISS (Amateur Radio on the International Space Station) Mentor Charlie Sufana serves as a backup on the second set of equipment for the ISS contact event at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University on Wednesday, March 3, 2024. ©Flagler News Weekly

Leading Up to Contact

The ISS contact event was the culmination of the ERAU STEM Outreach Club to Volusia County Schools in an effort to increase interest in STEM-related educational programming according to ERAU Engineering Professors David Richter and Noemi Liberati.

“The students have done several months of lead up or preparatory activities where they talked about space, how the space station interacts with NASA so that they’re prepared for today. I think it’s a really great opportunity to see what you’re studying in the books, in real life, and connect it to a person who can provide a very personal experience,” added ERAU Brand Manager Caroline Duda.

The Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Amateur Radio Club worked with ARISS and NASA – National Aeronautics and Space Administration to facilitate a Q&A session for middle and elementary school students in Volusia County with U.S. astronaut Matthew Dominick on board the International Space Station on Wednesday, April 3, 2024. ©Flagler News Weekly

During the full day of activities, students were offered a chance to connect with various clubs and organizations at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Many spent their time engaging with hands-on tabletop demonstrations before attending a remote discussion with ERAU graduate and NASA astronaut Nicole Stott.

Professor and Dean of the College of Engineering, Aerospace Engineering Department, Dr. Jim Gregory warmly welcomed the students to the campus. Overseeing the nation’s largest aerospace engineering program, he hopes the day’s experience will be an unforgettable one on their path to educational success, perhaps even galvanizing into action a future astronaut or two.

“We love having K12 students on campus. It’s about inspiring the next generation to become engineers and scientists. They can see how they can be creative as an engineer and how to use the math and science skills to do something that’s actually fun and interesting. We want to really draw them into the profession,” said Dr. Gregory.

ERAU Amateur Radio Club Founder and Outgoing President Paul Bartolemea works with current President Hope Lea to facilitate the ISS contact event. ©Flagler News Weekly