UAH Space Hardware Club team will connect area students with International Space Station

ARISS Team group photo

The ARISS team, from left: Front – Megan Jordan and Rebekah Clark. Back – Ocean Bowling, David Tutinzhu, Aiden Price, Joseph Hayes, Tony Lope and Jaiden Stark.

Space Hardware Club

Eight area sixth and eighth graders will be placing a long-distance call to lower Earth orbit when they dial up the International Space Station (ISS) via ham radio on April 7.

The students from New Hope Elementary, Sparkman Middle and Mountain Gap Middle schools will get a rare live interview with the ISS astronauts from the SHC Communications Lab in the UAH Engineering Building, courtesy of a Space Hardware Club (SHC) team at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) and the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) program.

The SHC team took on the project after a proposal was submitted to ARISS by Amber Porteous, a junior in aerospace engineering at UAH, a part of the University of Alabama System. Advised by Dr. Richard Tantaris, a mechanical and aerospace engineering lecturer, and Dr. Gang Wang, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, SHC has been involved with ARISS before, most recently in 2017.

“We luckily got the contact,” says Porteous, a Mobile native. “In May of 2021, we heard from the ARISS organization that we were one of nine organizations that had been accepted for a contact in the spring of 2022.”

ARISS worked to schedule the contact while SHC worked on organizing the ham radio station.

Porteous served as the SHC’s outreach manager last year and says she developed a passion for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education.

Rebekah Clark, a junior aerospace engineering major from Tampa, Fla., who is the current SHC outreach manager, says her passion for outreach began when she was a Girl Scout for 13 years in grade school and hosted team and individual service projects to win awards for community service. They often involved educating younger Girl Scouts or students younger than herself.

“After finishing my time in Girl Scouts, I came to UAH and began to miss being involved in service projects and I missed the opportunity to be in front of students,” she says. “Soon I heard of the vacancy for the SHC outreach program manager position, as well as Amber's successful application to the ARISS program, and I immediately wanted to jump in headfirst as this is a major program that Amber and I could not have completed without each other."

ARISS’ David Jordan is the team’s technical advisor.

“He’s been able to walk Amber and I through the logistical process and paperwork needed to be approved for ISS contact,” Clark says. “Kathy Lamont serves as our ARISS educational advisor and has been able to help us organize our educational day presentations for each middle and elementary school.”

She says ARISS contact veterans, UAH alumni and former SHC members Beth Dutour and Mark Becnel helped the team, as well.Through its outreach programs, the ARISS effort has affected many more than the eight students invited to participate in the ISS contact, Clark says.

“During our educational visits to the schools, the UAH SHC ARISS team was able to teach approximately 800 students about STEM topics such as rocketry, high altitude ballooning, ham radio and the history of the ISS,” she says. “In addition to this, the ARISS contact event will be publicly streamed and we hope to reach even more students beyond Huntsville and Madison County.”

The students who will speak to the astronauts were selected by the SHC ARISS team after a blind question submission process.

“One of the biggest rules we gave the students when submitting questions was, ‘If you can Google it, it's too easy a question,’” Clark says.

Once the team narrowed the submissions to around six or eight questions, a poll was created for SHC members to vote on which questions they liked the best, she says.

“Only after this double vote would we return to find the names of the students and reach out to the school to let them know who was selected.”

ARISS SHC members are:

  • Sam Morrison, Ham Radio Team Lead, senior, physics, Grant, Ala.
  • Ocean Bowling, Contact Team Lead, freshman, aerospace engineering, Louisville, Ky.
  • Areeb Mohammed, Education/Contact Team, junior, computer science, Brentwood, Tenn.
  • Megan Jordan, Education Team, junior, aerospace engineering, Mobile, Ala.
  • Alexandra Federigo, Contact Team, senior, mathematical science, Grand Rapids, Mich.
  • Spencer Christian, Education Team Lead, junior, aerospace engineering, Nixa, Mo.
  • Victoria Tarpley, Education/Contact Team, junior, mechanical engineering, Roxana, Ill.
  • Tristan Carter, Education/Contact Team, junior, mechanical engineering, Haleyville, Ala.
  • Michaela Tarpley, Education/Contact Team, junior, aerospace engineering, Roxana, Ill.
  • Joseph Hayes, Education Team, senior, aerospace engineering, Helena, Ala.
  • Aiden Price, Education Team, sophomore, mechanical engineering, El Dorado, Ark.
  • Taylor Borden, Education Team, sophomore, aerospace engineering, Lawrenceburg, Tenn.
  • Shivani Patel, UAH Rocketry Senior Design Team, senior, aerospace engineering, Lebanon, Tenn.

“We have had some really great support for our ARISS project,” Clark says. “We have had a lot of Space Hardware Club members volunteer for our educational days.”