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Of Eagles and Earthbounce


*Email: w2vu@cq-amateur-radio.com

Boy Scout camp. Sitting on the floor of the rec hall, watching a grainy black-and-white image on a TV that one of the camp directors had brought in for all of us to watch, and listen, as Neil Armstrong counted down the number of feet to the lunar surface and then announced, after the picture had briefly gone black, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” Cheers and applause, then holding our breaths as Armstrong and crewmate Buzz Aldrin climbed down the ladder and became the first humans to set foot on ground that wasn’t on the Earth.

It was July 20, 1969 — 50 years ago this month —and I remember the Apollo 11 moon landing like it was yesterday. And if you’re age 55 or older, there’s a good chance that you do as well. It was a moment of national pride for Americans, to be sure, but also an amazing achievement to be shared by the whole world —as Armstrong famously put it — “one giant leap for mankind.” The moon landing marked a high point for science and technology that has not been equaled since.

Is there a ham radio connection here? Of course. Even though none of the three astronauts on Apollo 11 (Armstrong, Aldrin, and command module pilot Michael Collins) was a ham, there were many hams who worked on the Apollo program, as well as the preceding Gemini and Mercury missions. The space program was the highest of hightech at the time and ham radio was a natural companion. In addition, the amateur radio space program had been growing up side-by-side with government and commercial space programs.

This year also marks the 50th anniversary of AMSAT, the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation, which was formed at the suggestion of then-CQ Propagation Editor George Jacobs, W3ASK. The Washington, DC-based AMSAT took on the mantle of leading the amateur satellite program from the west-coast-based Project OSCAR, which was finding it difficult to get launch approvals without connections in Washington. Hams at NASA began planting the seeds for amateur radio on manned space flights, which first came to fruition in 1983 when Astronaut Owen Garriott, W5LFL (SK), operated on 2 meters from the space shuttle. The success of this operation led to the development of SAREX, the Shuttle Amateur Radio EXperiment, which morphed into today’s ARISS, Amateur Radio on the International Space Station. As a result, many of today’s astronauts hold ham licenses and operate from orbit.

NASA is now planning a return to manned lunar missions, with a goal of again landing men (and hopefully, women, this time) on the Moon within five years. With the number of astronauts who hold amateur licenses, it is quite likely that at least some members of future lunar crews will also be hams, which means we definitely could see ham stations on the Moon in the not-toodistant future. CQ cartoonist Jason Togyer, W3MCK, came up with the possible scenario on this issue’s cover as a tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing with a nod toward the future as well. What we couldn’t quite figure out, though, was whether the astronauts on the cover are talking to hams back on Earth or contacting a distant lunar base via Earthbounce, perhaps also known as M-E-M or Moon- Earth-Moon. We’ll just have to wait and see on that little detail! But we’ll be certain to provide full coverage of the first lunar DXpedition … and of what happens when you try to bounce a radio signal off the top of the ionosphere!

Meanwhile, Back on Earth… The history of the amateur satellite program illustrates once again the role that hams can play as citizen scientists, working alongside professionals in various fields. In reviewing AMSAT’s history in the special 50th anniversary issue of the AMSAT Journal,1 I was reminded of the many contributions the amateur satellite program has made to space science and the satellite industry. It was hams who developed cubesats, showed that GPS worked from above the satellite constellation and made the first satellite-tosatellite link between OSACRs 6 and 7. This paved the way for NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) system that maintains near-constant communication for several satellites, including the International Space Station and the Hubble Space Telescope.

Citizen science was also front-andcenter at this year’s Dayton awards banquet, where Nathaniel Frissell, W2NAF, was honored as Amateur of the Year. Frissell (an Eagle Scout) was recognized primarily for his work as the founder of HamSci, a citizen science initiative that encourages collaboration between radio amateurs and ionospheric scientists. (See our Dayton photo essay, as well as our own CQ Hall of Fame induction article, elsewhere in this issue, for additional recognitions at Hamvention®.)

While it is always a pleasure to attend these banquets and meet each year’s honorees, this one was special for me, as I’ve known Nathaniel since he was 15, and his skills as a leader and organizer, as well as a top-notch researcher, were evident early on. Nathaniel has already established himself as one of our hobby’s next generation of leaders.

I was as impressed with Nathaniel’s acceptance speech as I have been with the work that got him there, and particularly with his closing remark — which I can’t top so I’ll use it as my closing as well —that “awards are not just a recognition of what you have done, but an affirmation of what you should continue doing.” Congratulations to all, and keep on doing what you’re doing!

– 73, Rich W2VU

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