Space Shuttle Mission STS-120 is up in space, and into their second day at this writing. They had a little trouble with a network router on board that interfered with getting external inspection images down to mission control for review, but it’s generally going pretty well. How do I know this? I’ve been listening to the folks up there, talking about it! I don’t have any special connections, you can do it too. Regular people across the country have been listening to space shuttle audio – and in some cases, even talking with the astronauts while they are in space via amateur radio – for over twenty years.
Space Shuttle missions are never routine – there’s always something exciting about looking up, knowing that there are people up there beyond the atmosphere, orbiting the earth. Sometimes you can see the shuttle, a tiny speck in the sky at night, moving across the sky. What are they doing up there? Experiments? Working on the International Space Station? Handling an emergency? Why wait for the news when you can listen in live? Mission STS-120 / ISS-10A is up right now, planned to return in two weeks. Here’s how to hear them.
Astronauts’ life in orbit is different from here on earth, and what you can hear varies according to the astronauts’ “day.” Schedules are easily available online. Sometimes you will hear recaps of the day’s activities, informational broadcasts, and other produced material. When the astronauts are active in space, though, you can often listen in on their communications. At one point in a past mission, I listened in as a spacewalk situation became complicated, and astronauts and ground personnel were discussing potential solutions to problems encountered. We all breathed a sigh of relief when they were back inside the shuttle, and I watched the summary later on the news.
These days, you can find almost anything on the Internet, and Space Shuttle audio and video are no exception. If you aren’t by your computer all day, though, you have another option. Radio Amateurs, who enjoy developing and using radio technologies as a hobby, have permission to retransmit audio from NASA during the Space Shuttle missions. If you can listen on shortwave or with a scanner, you can probably just take a radio with you and listen wherever you are!
Here’s how to listen on the Internet when you’re by your computer, and find the “secret frequencies” on your radio. If you’re interested in space communications, you might also want to investigate AMSAT, a group of radio amateurs who have their own satellites in space, one of many ways you can enjoy “ham radio” these days.
The links provided with this article provide many different ways to listen. The simplest is to check this list, and program your local frequencing into your scanner or ham VHF or UHF radio. They are ham radio “repeaters,” shared with local ham conversations, and usually only active with shuttle audio when the shuttle astronauts are awake. Check the schedule to see when that is, since they are orbiting the earth the sun rises and sets about every hour and a half!
In addition to relayed shuttle audio, astronauts on the Space Shuttle, the former Russian MIR space station, and the International Space Station have at times talked directly with amateur radio operators on the ground, and were easily heard with basic ham or scanner equipment, even though their orbit does cause some “Doppler shift” in the frequency they are received on. Stay tuned for future chances to contact them, and it might be a good time to get your amateur radio license, to be prepared!
“Shuttle Audio Frequencies”, http://shuttleaudio.info/
“Receiving Space Shuttle Astronaut Voice Communications”, http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=1529
“NASA – Shuttle Mission TV Schedule”, http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/mission_schedule.html
“Retransmission of Shuttle Audio”, http://hamradio.arc.nasa.gov/shuttleaudio.html
“NLARC Shuttle Audio Home Page NA8SA”, http://www.grc.nasa.gov/WWW/Clubs/NA8SA/retrans.html
http://www.sworld.com.au/steven/space/shuttle/guide.txt (Unofficial shuttle launch guide)
http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/realdata/elements/index.html (Orbital elements info for shuttle and ISS)
“Shuttle Retransmission Fact Sheet”, http://garc.gsfc.nasa.gov/retransmission/shuttle_faq.html
“International Space Station Reference”, http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/station/reference/radio/ (Amateur Radio in Space)
“Goddard Amateur Radio Club Home Page”, http://garc.gsfc.nasa.gov/
“Shuttle Audio Frequencies”, http://www.amsat.org/amsat/sarex/shutfreq.html