Using the highest resolution satellite imagery currently available—Worldview 3—from Maxar Technologies and deep learning, (TensorFlow API, Google Brain) researchers at the University of Oxford Wildlife Conservation Research Unit and Machine Learning Research Group have detected elephants from space with comparable accuracy to human detection capabilities. Finding a needle in a haystack is a challenge, but counting elephants from space sounds like science fiction, but that is exactly what a team led by WildCRU's Isla Duporge has achieved. The population of African elephants (Loxodonta africana) has plummeted over the last century due to poaching, retaliatory killing from crop raiding and habitat fragmentation. To conserve them requires knowledge of where they are, and how many there are: accurate monitoring is vital. Existing methods are prone to error. Inaccurate counts lead to misallocation of scarce conservation resources and misunderstanding population trends. Currently the most common survey technique for elephant populations in savannah environments is aerial counts from manned aircraft. Observers on aerial surveys can get exhausted, be hindered by poor visibility and otherwise succumb to bias, and aerial surveys can be costly and logistically challenging. A team from the University of Oxford (WildCRU: Department of Zoology and the Machine Learning Research Group: Department of Engineering) in collaboration with Dr. Olga Isupova, University of Bath and Dr. Tiejun Wang, University of Twente, set out to solve these problems. Remotely sensing elephants using satellite imagery and automating detection via deep learning provides a new method for surveying elephants and also solves various existing challenges. Satellites can collect upward of 5000 km² imagery in one pass captured in a matter of minutes, eliminating the risk of double counting. Repeat surveys are also possible at short intervals. Satellite monitoring is an unobtrusive technique requiring no ground presence thus eliminating the risk of disturbing species, or of concern for human safety during data collection. Previously inaccessible areas are rendered accessible, and cross-border areas—often crucial to conservation planning—can be surveyed without the time-consuming requirement of terrestrial permits. One of the challenges of using satellite monitoring is processing the enormous quantity of imagery generated. However, automating detection means a process that would formally have taken months can be completed in a matter of hours. Furthermore, machines are less prone to error, false negatives and false positives in deep learning algorithms are consistent and can be rectified by systematically improving models- the same cannot be said for humans. To develop this new method, the team created a customized training dataset of more than 1000 elephants in South Africa, which was fed into a Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) and the results were compared to human performance. Elephants, it turns out, can be detected in satellite imagery with accuracy as high as human detection capabilities. The results (known as the F2 score) of the CNN models was 0.78 in heterogeneous areas and 0.73 in homogenous areas, compared with, an averaged human detection capability F2 score of 0.77 in heterogeneous areas and 0.80 in homogenous areas. The model could even detect elephants in places far from the training data site showing the generalizability of the model. Having trained the machine only on adults, it was then able to identify calves. The researchers believe that this demonstrates the power of technology to serve conservation: satellite remote sensing and deep learning technologies offer promise to the conservation of these majestic mammals. Conservation technologies open a new world of possibilities, to be embraced with the urgency necessitated by the sixth mass extinction and the global plight of biodiversity. The paper, "Using very high-resolution satellite imagery and deep learning to detect and count African elephants in heterogeneous landscapes," is published in Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation. https://phys.org/news/2020-12-elephants-space-satellite-revolution.html
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"Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better." ~ Albert Einstein Climate change and biodiversity loss are laying bare our dependence on the natural world for everything from the food we eat to the air we breathe. But nature also holds the solution to other problems, inspiring scientific discovery in a host of unexpected ways. Nature is "a source of inspiration for science, because it has figured out the way Earth supports life," said Lex Amore from the Biomimicry Institute. "It is imperative we look to the biological blueprints that have been successful over millennia to launch groundbreaking ideas faster." From smelly durian fruit that could charge electric cars to sea sponges that might help build better spaceships, here is a selection of this year's scientific work inspired by nature. Parasitic wasps Removing tumours and blood clots through minimal invasive surgery may soon become easier thanks to a flexible, ultra-thin and steerable needle inspired by parasitic wasps. These formidable insects inject their eggs into living hosts such as caterpillars through a hollow needle called the ovipositor. Scientists from the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands studied the ovipositor's delivery mechanism, with blades that slide up and down alternately, using friction to push the eggs through. https://phys.org/news/2020-12-fruity-energy-spidery-lenses-nature-inspired.html
63 views · Dec 25th, 2020
Chicago has more lead water pipes than any other American city, yet federal regulations unveiled this week by the Trump administration likely won't require anything new to prevent homeowners and renters from ingesting the brain-damaging metal. Physicians and scientists say that unless water drawn from household faucets is properly filtered, the only way to keep the lead out in older cities like Chicago is by replacing pipes connecting homes and small apartment buildings to municipal water supplies. Trump appointees rejected the expert advice, choosing instead to tinker with regulations adopted three decades ago that are widely seen as inadequate. Andrew Wheeler, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator, called the changes a dramatic improvement of what is known as the Lead and Copper Rule. But the fine print of the new regulations show the Trump EPA effectively delayed lead pipe replacements for up to three decades and, in some cases, allowed cities to keep toxic pipes in the ground indefinitely. "They nibbled around the edges but did not fundamentally fix the problem," said Erik Olson, an attorney with the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council who unsuccessfully sued for changes in federal regulations during the 1990s. "That's really disappointing and amounts to a missed opportunity." Ingesting tiny concentrations of lead can permanently damage the developing brains of children and contribute to heart disease, kidney failure and other health problems later in life. In 2018, researchers estimated more than 400,000 deaths a year in the U.S. are linked to lead exposure. Both the EPA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded years ago there is no safe level of exposure to lead. More recently, EPA scientists and academic researchers have discovered the toxic metal can leach into drinking water if faucets haven't been used for a few hours or if service lines have been jostled by street work. The new regulations deprive the EPA of a bigger stick to force Chicago and other cities to begin tackling the lingering threat to public health, which became the subject of national attention after high levels of lead began flowing out of household taps in Flint, Michigan. Flint highlighted the disastrous consequences of failing to properly maintain a public water system. Chicago is the top example of a broader problem facing scores of U.S. cities that spent more than a century installing lead pipes to deliver drinking water. Until Mayor Lori Lightfoot took office, Chicago leaders denied they had a problem, even though the city required new homes to be hooked up to lead service lines until the day Congress banned them in 1986. In September, Lightfoot aides announced the city would begin replacing toxic pipes next year. Initial work will be modest compared with the scope of the dangers; only 750 of the roughly 400,000 lead service lines connecting homes to street mains are expected to be dug up in 2021, according to slides prepared by the Chicago Department of Water Management. There still is no federal standard for the amount of lead allowable in tap water from individual homes. Even under the Trump EPA regulations, utilities are considered to be in compliance as long as 90% of the homes tested have lead levels below 15 parts per billion, a standard that isn't based on scientific evidence of dangers posed by the toxic metal. The new rules add another threshold that requires utilities to begin drafting plans for service line replacements if lead levels in 90 per of homes sampled exceed 10 ppb. Utilities also will be required to provide results more promptly to homes that exceed the EPA's new "trigger level." Wheeler said the revamped rule, which has been in the works since 2010, "uses science and best practices to correct shortcomings of the previous rule." "This historic action strengthens every aspect of the Lead and Copper Rule and will help accelerate reductions of lead in drinking water and better protect our children and communities," Wheeler said during an online news conference. The American Academy of Pediatrics has documented lasting cognition problems in children exposed to lead concentrations of just 5 ppb. Another shortcoming of the Trump rules: The administration retained the previous requirement that only 50 samples need to be collected every three years in Chicago and other big cities. The Tribune reported in 2016 that most of the homes sampled in Chicago are owned by water department employees or retirees living on the Far Northwest and Far Southwest sides, where cases of lead poisoning are rare. Only two of the federally required samples drawn in Chicago during 2018 exceeded the Trump EPA's new threshold of 10 ppb, according to state records. By contrast, results from the city's free testing kits show nearly 1,300 homes across Chicago had lead levels exceeding 10 ppb last year. Lead-contaminated water has been found in at least one home in all 77 community areas since the water department began offering the testing kits in 2016. https://phys.org/news/2020-12-trump-epa-overhaul-pipe-toxic.html
63 views · Dec 25th, 2020
The International Space Station cost more than $100 billion. A ham radio set can be had for a few hundred bucks. Perhaps that explains, in part, the appeal of having one of humankind's greatest scientific inventions communicate with Earth via technology that's more than 100 years old. But perhaps there's a simpler explanation for why astronauts and ham radio operators have been talking, and talking, for years. NASA astronaut Doug Wheelock was just a few weeks into his six-month mission at the space station when feelings of isolation began to set in. Wheelock would be separated from loved ones, save for communication via an internet phone, email or social media. At times, the stress and tension of serving as the station's commander could be intense. One night, as he looked out a window at the Earth below, he remembered the space station's ham radio. He figured he'd turn it on—see if anyone was listening. "Any station, any station, this is the International Space Station," Wheelock said. A flood of voices jumbled out of the airwaves. Astronauts aboard the space station often speak to students via ham radio, which can also be used in emergencies, but those are scheduled appearances. Some, like Wheelock, spend their limited free time making contact with amateur radio operators around the world. "It allowed me to ... just reach out to humanity down there," said Wheelock, who interacted with many operators, known as "hams," during that stay at the space station in 2010. "It became my emotional, and a really visceral, connection to the planet." The first amateur radio transmission from space dates to 1983, when astronaut Owen Garriott took to the airwaves from the Space Shuttle Columbia. Garriott was a licensed ham who, back on Earth, had used his home equipment in Houston to chat with his father in Oklahoma. Garriott and fellow astronaut Tony England pushed NASA to allow amateur radio equipment aboard shuttle flights. "We thought it would be a good encouragement for young people to get interested in science and engineering if they could experience this," said England, who was the second astronaut to use ham radio in space. An almost-all-volunteer organization called Amateur Radio on the International Space Station, or ARISS, now helps arrange contact between students and astronauts on the space station. Students prepare to ask questions rapid-fire, one after another, into the ham radio microphone for the brief 10-minute window before the space station flies out of range. "We try to think of ourselves as planting seeds and hoping that we get some mighty oaks to grow," said Kenneth G. Ransom, the ISS Ham project coordinator at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. Typically, about 25 schools throughout the world are chosen each year, said Rosalie White, international secretary treasurer at ARISS. "Not too many people get to talk to an astronaut," she said. "They get the importance of that." The conversations are a treat for the astronauts as well. "You're talking to someone and looking right down at where they are," NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold II said. Over the last 10 years, ham radio has become more popular, experts say, with about 750,000 licensed amateur operators across the U.S. (not all of whom are active on the air). Helping to drive that interest: emergency communications. "Ham radio is when all else fails," said Diana Feinberg, Los Angeles section manager for the American Radio Relay League, the national association for amateur radio. "Unlike other forms of communication, it does not require any kind of a switched network." But for some hams, the allure is the opportunity to connect with people all over the world—or even above it. During his 10-day shuttle mission in 1983, astronaut Garriott spoke with about 250 hams all over the world, including King Hussein of Jordan and Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona. Garriott died in 2019. "From my perspective, even from a young age, it was very obvious how globally inspirational that moment was," said his son Richard Garriott. "People from Australia and America, just all over, had tuned in, and it clearly touched them. No matter what their station was, no matter where physically they were, they all became part of this global experience." It's not surprising that Richard Garriott followed his father's example with a 2008 flight to the space station as a private astronaut. During his free time on the 12-day mission, the younger Garriott made contact with so many hams on the ground—including his father—that the two pieces of paper he brought to record contacts filled up during his first day on the radio. "Any moderately populated landmass, without regard to time of day or night, you would find a bountiful group of enthusiasts who are ready to make contact," he said. What drives this desire for contact? Amateur radio operators love a challenge, particularly when it comes to reaching remote or unusual locations. "We're always, in amateur radio, talking to people we don't know," England said. "If we didn't enjoy the adventure of meeting other people through that way, we probably wouldn't have been amateur radio operators." Amateur operator Larry Shaunce has made a handful of contacts with astronauts over the years, the first time in the 1980s, when, as a teenager, he reached Owen Garriott. More recently, Shaunce, 56, made contact with NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor in 2018. "Hello, this is Larry in Minnesota," he said after Auñón-Chancellor acknowledged his call sign. "Oh, Minnesota!" she replied, adding that she could hear him "super clear" up in space and that he must have nice equipment. "It's always exciting when you talk to somebody in space," said Shaunce, an electronic technician in Albert Lea, Minn. "You just never know. I monitor the frequency all the time." James Lea knows that reaching the space station can be hit or miss. He and a friend once pulled over near a farm in Bunnell, Fla., as the space station flew overhead. The pair sat in a truck with an antenna on the roof and the radio equipment in the cab. After a few tries, they heard Auñón-Chancellor respond: "Hey, good morning, Florida. How are you?" Lea, 53, a filmmaker and engineer, recalled that he and his friend were "sitting in the middle of a cabbage field. The fact that she came back to him was kind of incredible." Lea's daughter Hope has tried for years to reach the space station but has never gotten a response. She got her ham radio license at age 8. Now 14, Hope is thinking about becoming an astronaut and going to Mars, her father said. David Pruett, an emergency physician from Hillsboro, Ore., tried to contact the space station using a multi-band amateur radio with a magnetic mount antenna, placed in a pizza pan to improve performance. Working from his dining-room table, he made many fruitless attempts. But one day, the space station got close to the West Coast, and Pruett again put out the call. "November Alpha One Sierra Sierra," he said, using the amateur radio call sign for the space station. Seconds of silence stretched after Pruett's identification: "Kilo Foxtrot Seven Echo Tango X-ray, Portland, Ore." Then came a crackle, then the voice of astronaut Wheelock. At the close, both signed off with "73"—ham lingo for "best regards." Remembering that first conversation in 2010 still makes the hair on Pruett's arms stand up. "It was absolutely unbelievable," Pruett said. "To push that microphone button and call the International Space Station and then let go of the button and wait, and then you hear this little crackle, and you hear Doug Wheelock come back and say, 'Welcome aboard the International Space Station'—it's just mind-boggling." Pruett and Wheelock went on to have 31 contacts in all, one when Pruett was stuck in a traffic jam in Tacoma, Wash. "I feel like I struck up a friendship with him," said Pruett, 64, who chronicled many of his contacts on YouTube. "I can only imagine that their workload is very tight, and they've got precious little free time, but I think it was very generous of him to donate as much of his free time to amateur radio operators as he did." Wheelock remembers Pruett well. "David was one of the early contacts I made," he said. "He was one of the first voices I heard as I was approaching the West Coast." Wheelock's other ham radio contacts made similarly deep impressions on him—including a man from Portugal he spoke to so many times that Wheeler and his fellow astronauts once serenaded him with "Happy Birthday to You." Wheelock also made contact with some of the first responders who worked to rescue the 33 Chilean miners trapped underground for 69 days in 2010. "I just wanted to give a word of encouragement … to let them know that there's someone above that cares about what they're doing and what's in their path," he said. During a six-month mission from 2005 to 2006, NASA astronaut William McArthur spoke via ham radio with 37 schools and made more than 1,800 individual contacts in more than 90 countries. "That's just an infinitesimally small percentage of the world's population, but it's a lot more than I think I could have directly touched any other way," he said. "I wanted to share with people who maybe were random, who maybe didn't have a special connection or insight into space exploration." It also allowed for some variety in his conversation partners. During his mission, McArthur's main crew mate was Russian cosmonaut Valeri Tokarev. "I love him like a brother. We're very, very close," he said. "But still, it's one other person for six months." https://phys.org/news/2020-12-earthlings-astronauts-chat-ham-radio.html
76 views · Dec 25th, 2020

More from 777 times

"Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better." ~ Albert Einstein Climate change and biodiversity loss are laying bare our dependence on the natural world for everything from the food we eat to the air we breathe. But nature also holds the solution to other problems, inspiring scientific discovery in a host of unexpected ways. Nature is "a source of inspiration for science, because it has figured out the way Earth supports life," said Lex Amore from the Biomimicry Institute. "It is imperative we look to the biological blueprints that have been successful over millennia to launch groundbreaking ideas faster." From smelly durian fruit that could charge electric cars to sea sponges that might help build better spaceships, here is a selection of this year's scientific work inspired by nature. Parasitic wasps Removing tumours and blood clots through minimal invasive surgery may soon become easier thanks to a flexible, ultra-thin and steerable needle inspired by parasitic wasps. These formidable insects inject their eggs into living hosts such as caterpillars through a hollow needle called the ovipositor. Scientists from the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands studied the ovipositor's delivery mechanism, with blades that slide up and down alternately, using friction to push the eggs through. https://phys.org/news/2020-12-fruity-energy-spidery-lenses-nature-inspired.html
63 views · Dec 25th, 2020
Chicago has more lead water pipes than any other American city, yet federal regulations unveiled this week by the Trump administration likely won't require anything new to prevent homeowners and renters from ingesting the brain-damaging metal. Physicians and scientists say that unless water drawn from household faucets is properly filtered, the only way to keep the lead out in older cities like Chicago is by replacing pipes connecting homes and small apartment buildings to municipal water supplies. Trump appointees rejected the expert advice, choosing instead to tinker with regulations adopted three decades ago that are widely seen as inadequate. Andrew Wheeler, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator, called the changes a dramatic improvement of what is known as the Lead and Copper Rule. But the fine print of the new regulations show the Trump EPA effectively delayed lead pipe replacements for up to three decades and, in some cases, allowed cities to keep toxic pipes in the ground indefinitely. "They nibbled around the edges but did not fundamentally fix the problem," said Erik Olson, an attorney with the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council who unsuccessfully sued for changes in federal regulations during the 1990s. "That's really disappointing and amounts to a missed opportunity." Ingesting tiny concentrations of lead can permanently damage the developing brains of children and contribute to heart disease, kidney failure and other health problems later in life. In 2018, researchers estimated more than 400,000 deaths a year in the U.S. are linked to lead exposure. Both the EPA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded years ago there is no safe level of exposure to lead. More recently, EPA scientists and academic researchers have discovered the toxic metal can leach into drinking water if faucets haven't been used for a few hours or if service lines have been jostled by street work. The new regulations deprive the EPA of a bigger stick to force Chicago and other cities to begin tackling the lingering threat to public health, which became the subject of national attention after high levels of lead began flowing out of household taps in Flint, Michigan. Flint highlighted the disastrous consequences of failing to properly maintain a public water system. Chicago is the top example of a broader problem facing scores of U.S. cities that spent more than a century installing lead pipes to deliver drinking water. Until Mayor Lori Lightfoot took office, Chicago leaders denied they had a problem, even though the city required new homes to be hooked up to lead service lines until the day Congress banned them in 1986. In September, Lightfoot aides announced the city would begin replacing toxic pipes next year. Initial work will be modest compared with the scope of the dangers; only 750 of the roughly 400,000 lead service lines connecting homes to street mains are expected to be dug up in 2021, according to slides prepared by the Chicago Department of Water Management. There still is no federal standard for the amount of lead allowable in tap water from individual homes. Even under the Trump EPA regulations, utilities are considered to be in compliance as long as 90% of the homes tested have lead levels below 15 parts per billion, a standard that isn't based on scientific evidence of dangers posed by the toxic metal. The new rules add another threshold that requires utilities to begin drafting plans for service line replacements if lead levels in 90 per of homes sampled exceed 10 ppb. Utilities also will be required to provide results more promptly to homes that exceed the EPA's new "trigger level." Wheeler said the revamped rule, which has been in the works since 2010, "uses science and best practices to correct shortcomings of the previous rule." "This historic action strengthens every aspect of the Lead and Copper Rule and will help accelerate reductions of lead in drinking water and better protect our children and communities," Wheeler said during an online news conference. The American Academy of Pediatrics has documented lasting cognition problems in children exposed to lead concentrations of just 5 ppb. Another shortcoming of the Trump rules: The administration retained the previous requirement that only 50 samples need to be collected every three years in Chicago and other big cities. The Tribune reported in 2016 that most of the homes sampled in Chicago are owned by water department employees or retirees living on the Far Northwest and Far Southwest sides, where cases of lead poisoning are rare. Only two of the federally required samples drawn in Chicago during 2018 exceeded the Trump EPA's new threshold of 10 ppb, according to state records. By contrast, results from the city's free testing kits show nearly 1,300 homes across Chicago had lead levels exceeding 10 ppb last year. Lead-contaminated water has been found in at least one home in all 77 community areas since the water department began offering the testing kits in 2016. https://phys.org/news/2020-12-trump-epa-overhaul-pipe-toxic.html
63 views · Dec 25th, 2020
The International Space Station cost more than $100 billion. A ham radio set can be had for a few hundred bucks. Perhaps that explains, in part, the appeal of having one of humankind's greatest scientific inventions communicate with Earth via technology that's more than 100 years old. But perhaps there's a simpler explanation for why astronauts and ham radio operators have been talking, and talking, for years. NASA astronaut Doug Wheelock was just a few weeks into his six-month mission at the space station when feelings of isolation began to set in. Wheelock would be separated from loved ones, save for communication via an internet phone, email or social media. At times, the stress and tension of serving as the station's commander could be intense. One night, as he looked out a window at the Earth below, he remembered the space station's ham radio. He figured he'd turn it on—see if anyone was listening. "Any station, any station, this is the International Space Station," Wheelock said. A flood of voices jumbled out of the airwaves. Astronauts aboard the space station often speak to students via ham radio, which can also be used in emergencies, but those are scheduled appearances. Some, like Wheelock, spend their limited free time making contact with amateur radio operators around the world. "It allowed me to ... just reach out to humanity down there," said Wheelock, who interacted with many operators, known as "hams," during that stay at the space station in 2010. "It became my emotional, and a really visceral, connection to the planet." The first amateur radio transmission from space dates to 1983, when astronaut Owen Garriott took to the airwaves from the Space Shuttle Columbia. Garriott was a licensed ham who, back on Earth, had used his home equipment in Houston to chat with his father in Oklahoma. Garriott and fellow astronaut Tony England pushed NASA to allow amateur radio equipment aboard shuttle flights. "We thought it would be a good encouragement for young people to get interested in science and engineering if they could experience this," said England, who was the second astronaut to use ham radio in space. An almost-all-volunteer organization called Amateur Radio on the International Space Station, or ARISS, now helps arrange contact between students and astronauts on the space station. Students prepare to ask questions rapid-fire, one after another, into the ham radio microphone for the brief 10-minute window before the space station flies out of range. "We try to think of ourselves as planting seeds and hoping that we get some mighty oaks to grow," said Kenneth G. Ransom, the ISS Ham project coordinator at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. Typically, about 25 schools throughout the world are chosen each year, said Rosalie White, international secretary treasurer at ARISS. "Not too many people get to talk to an astronaut," she said. "They get the importance of that." The conversations are a treat for the astronauts as well. "You're talking to someone and looking right down at where they are," NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold II said. Over the last 10 years, ham radio has become more popular, experts say, with about 750,000 licensed amateur operators across the U.S. (not all of whom are active on the air). Helping to drive that interest: emergency communications. "Ham radio is when all else fails," said Diana Feinberg, Los Angeles section manager for the American Radio Relay League, the national association for amateur radio. "Unlike other forms of communication, it does not require any kind of a switched network." But for some hams, the allure is the opportunity to connect with people all over the world—or even above it. During his 10-day shuttle mission in 1983, astronaut Garriott spoke with about 250 hams all over the world, including King Hussein of Jordan and Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona. Garriott died in 2019. "From my perspective, even from a young age, it was very obvious how globally inspirational that moment was," said his son Richard Garriott. "People from Australia and America, just all over, had tuned in, and it clearly touched them. No matter what their station was, no matter where physically they were, they all became part of this global experience." It's not surprising that Richard Garriott followed his father's example with a 2008 flight to the space station as a private astronaut. During his free time on the 12-day mission, the younger Garriott made contact with so many hams on the ground—including his father—that the two pieces of paper he brought to record contacts filled up during his first day on the radio. "Any moderately populated landmass, without regard to time of day or night, you would find a bountiful group of enthusiasts who are ready to make contact," he said. What drives this desire for contact? Amateur radio operators love a challenge, particularly when it comes to reaching remote or unusual locations. "We're always, in amateur radio, talking to people we don't know," England said. "If we didn't enjoy the adventure of meeting other people through that way, we probably wouldn't have been amateur radio operators." Amateur operator Larry Shaunce has made a handful of contacts with astronauts over the years, the first time in the 1980s, when, as a teenager, he reached Owen Garriott. More recently, Shaunce, 56, made contact with NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor in 2018. "Hello, this is Larry in Minnesota," he said after Auñón-Chancellor acknowledged his call sign. "Oh, Minnesota!" she replied, adding that she could hear him "super clear" up in space and that he must have nice equipment. "It's always exciting when you talk to somebody in space," said Shaunce, an electronic technician in Albert Lea, Minn. "You just never know. I monitor the frequency all the time." James Lea knows that reaching the space station can be hit or miss. He and a friend once pulled over near a farm in Bunnell, Fla., as the space station flew overhead. The pair sat in a truck with an antenna on the roof and the radio equipment in the cab. After a few tries, they heard Auñón-Chancellor respond: "Hey, good morning, Florida. How are you?" Lea, 53, a filmmaker and engineer, recalled that he and his friend were "sitting in the middle of a cabbage field. The fact that she came back to him was kind of incredible." Lea's daughter Hope has tried for years to reach the space station but has never gotten a response. She got her ham radio license at age 8. Now 14, Hope is thinking about becoming an astronaut and going to Mars, her father said. David Pruett, an emergency physician from Hillsboro, Ore., tried to contact the space station using a multi-band amateur radio with a magnetic mount antenna, placed in a pizza pan to improve performance. Working from his dining-room table, he made many fruitless attempts. But one day, the space station got close to the West Coast, and Pruett again put out the call. "November Alpha One Sierra Sierra," he said, using the amateur radio call sign for the space station. Seconds of silence stretched after Pruett's identification: "Kilo Foxtrot Seven Echo Tango X-ray, Portland, Ore." Then came a crackle, then the voice of astronaut Wheelock. At the close, both signed off with "73"—ham lingo for "best regards." Remembering that first conversation in 2010 still makes the hair on Pruett's arms stand up. "It was absolutely unbelievable," Pruett said. "To push that microphone button and call the International Space Station and then let go of the button and wait, and then you hear this little crackle, and you hear Doug Wheelock come back and say, 'Welcome aboard the International Space Station'—it's just mind-boggling." Pruett and Wheelock went on to have 31 contacts in all, one when Pruett was stuck in a traffic jam in Tacoma, Wash. "I feel like I struck up a friendship with him," said Pruett, 64, who chronicled many of his contacts on YouTube. "I can only imagine that their workload is very tight, and they've got precious little free time, but I think it was very generous of him to donate as much of his free time to amateur radio operators as he did." Wheelock remembers Pruett well. "David was one of the early contacts I made," he said. "He was one of the first voices I heard as I was approaching the West Coast." Wheelock's other ham radio contacts made similarly deep impressions on him—including a man from Portugal he spoke to so many times that Wheeler and his fellow astronauts once serenaded him with "Happy Birthday to You." Wheelock also made contact with some of the first responders who worked to rescue the 33 Chilean miners trapped underground for 69 days in 2010. "I just wanted to give a word of encouragement … to let them know that there's someone above that cares about what they're doing and what's in their path," he said. During a six-month mission from 2005 to 2006, NASA astronaut William McArthur spoke via ham radio with 37 schools and made more than 1,800 individual contacts in more than 90 countries. "That's just an infinitesimally small percentage of the world's population, but it's a lot more than I think I could have directly touched any other way," he said. "I wanted to share with people who maybe were random, who maybe didn't have a special connection or insight into space exploration." It also allowed for some variety in his conversation partners. During his mission, McArthur's main crew mate was Russian cosmonaut Valeri Tokarev. "I love him like a brother. We're very, very close," he said. "But still, it's one other person for six months." https://phys.org/news/2020-12-earthlings-astronauts-chat-ham-radio.html
76 views · Dec 25th, 2020