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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Humber College Homebrew Space Station Contact? Not really

I wasn't going to mention this, but since we were talking about Grote Reber, I sort of feel obliged to raise this subject. The techno-blogosphere is filled this morning with the story of four Humber College (Toronto) seniors who supposedly contacted the International Space Station with homebrew gear. See: http://www.humber.ca/stories/first_contact.htm Wow, pretty good, eh? Well, not so fast SolderSmoke fans. Turns out you have to read the fine print. They did it with a radio system that they "designed and built themselves." I looked at the slide show and their operating table was covered with expensive commercial gear. Sure enough, when I checked their blog, I found this:

Today, Mr. Rector, Paul, and I went out to
Radioworld and purchased a transceiver. After much research, we decided to go with the ICOM Ic-V8000. For the cost, it has exactly what we need. On Friday, we're going to be integrating it into our setup, and doing all the necessary testing.

This contact was no big deal really. When I was talking to Norm Thagard on MIR station back in the 20th century, there was one 13 year-old kid in South Africa who pulled off the same feat.
See: http://www.gadgeteer.us/MIR18.HTM If they had actually built the radios themselves it would have been a bit more noteworthy. Looks like this one had more PR smoke than solder smoke.


  1. Bill,

    I read the article yesterday too, and I'd be lying if it didn't make me a bit cranky. 'PR-smoke' is definitely apropos.


  2. PR smoke be it may, it is still good PR for the amateur radio community. Maybe the positive spin placed on this story will inspire others to be come licensed and actually work ARISS/satellites or even EME. Mosr PR for the ham community centers around disaster assistance, which may not be as interesting as space contacts for some.

  3. James --

    I do agree -- I was initially very excited when I began to read about this story. I guess the sprinkling of the word 'homebrew' throughout the headlines caused it to catch my interest.

    The unfortunate side is that some of the verbiage ('technological breakthrough', 'believed to be a first', etc.) used to report this story would lead an uneducated reader to think that these guys split the atom.

    It may even lead people to think that contacting the ISS is not something that anyone can try to do!

    In hindsight, I suppose the media is more at fault than these dudes.

    Kudos to them for their accomplishment.


  4. I read this story and it got my dander up, I must admit.

    I think it's great that these guys were able to put together a station and talk with the ISS. I enjoy operating satellites as but one of my radio activities.

    But the hype surrounding this was so excessive it really got under my skin. I watched a video (posted on their blog) in which their instructor compared their project to "an 8 year old trying out for the Pittsburgh Penguins".

    I really blame the instructors and the school for way overblowing this. Seems to have been a PR tool for the school more than anything else.

    It certainly wasn't a first anything, though. I managed to contact Mir about a month after getting my ticket, with no outside help. I was 21 at the time.

    I do hope that these guys do become a regular part of the ham radio community.
    They certainly do seem to have a lot of enthusiasm.

    Blog is as http://www.operationfirstcontact.com

    Sean - VA5LF


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