Field Day 2014 – Out of this world!

Field Day has been called by some Amateurs “the best few days of the year.”  At the top of Empire Grade Rd near Bonny Doon, CA, I found myself in amongst all the activities which make up ARRL Field Day. Setting up antenna towers and radio stations, reconnecting with some folks I hadn’t seen since last year, and generally having a great time sharing stories.

fd2014-1bAs Saturday morning rolled around and the 11 A.M. PST kickoff for Field Day approached, the general hum of activity picked up, and I took my place to assist where I could at the GOTA (Get On The Air) station. This was a heavily visited station this year with newly licensed hams and guests trying out HF radio for the first time. This station generally sets the tone of the big reasons for field day: community engagement.  Located in the middle of our site’s activity Reed (N1WC) and San (W6RRR) were the face of Amateur Radio at the station and did an admirable job introducing new folks to amateur radio and getting them on the air.

Just after things got underway, a buzz ran around the site, and spread to the local 2-meter Field-Day call-in frequency, announcing a QST of an “out of this world event.” Something had been accomplished by one of the stations managers, which (to the best of my knowledge) had not been achieved before at the CA-Forestry & Fire Protection Training Field Day site.  John Sisler (KJ6ZL) had just accomplished something he had been working towards for years, but until Field Day 2014 he had never done. What just happened?!? What did he do?

fd2014-3bJohn’s station had logged a first time phone contact with the International Space Station (ISS) call sign NA1ISS and astronaut Reid Wiseman (Commander, U.S. Navy, KF5LKT).

My first thought was wow . . . I missed it. By 11:30am, there was a crowd gathering outside the satellite station, and John (KJ6ZL) explained the event to the group of gathering hams. He did so smiling, knowing that on this day, at his satellite Field Day site (K6MMM), and JV (K6HJU) at the mic, he had made his first International Space Station (ISS) voice contact!

A little perspective here. The ISS is traveling at 4.8 miles per second, 17,150 miles per hour, and once around the world every 90 minutes. Its orbit is about 230 miles above the earth. The window of communication from horizon to horizon is just under 8 minutes.  And don’t forget, the astronauts have much more important things to be doing other than talking to hams! However, this year ARRL was able to get Commander Wiseman to support the start of field day with 3 communications opportunities (once per orbit). See article:

Well, being of sharp wit, and thankful that the coffee kicked in, I cornered John and said, “Hey . . . doesn’t that come by here again in about 60 minutes?” He said, “Yes, but don’t count on them being on the air. This is a rare event when they do this.”

fd2014-2To shorten this story, I was on the air when the ISS came back over the horizon at 19:51 UTC. After a few nervous minutes of silent air time, I heard the call from the ISS and jumped on it to make my own “first contact” with Commander Wiseman on NA1ISS. I immediately handed off the mic to John and he did the same. There were about 9 field day hams that made our first ISS contact, over the 3 total operational passes of the ISS on Field Day. It was an out of this world experience! I’m still flying high. I’ll be mailing soon for my QSL card!

Thank you again John (KJ6ZL) for all your continued work on the Field Day satellite station set-up and community training. If you want to know more about making your own 2M & 440Mhz FM contacts via satellite check out John’s (KJ6ZL) articles 2014 Good Listeners and 2012 Hawaii Contact video.

The two videos below reveal what it sounded like on the up/down link to the ISS on FD 2014.

Thanks to Donald (AE6RF) for the Field Day Site Photos