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Girls Engineering Camp connects to International Space Station

It was a call that was out of this world — literally.

At 9:32 a.m. Monday, July 23, campers in the Everyday Engineering Program at Rochester Institute of Technology had the chance to connect, via amateur radio, with the International Space Station. The event was part of the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station program, a cooperative venture of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Amateur Radio Relay League and the Radio Amateur Satellite Corp. that organizes contact via amateur radio between astronauts aboard the International Space Station and classrooms and communities.

The Everyday Engineering Program includes fifth- and sixth-grade girls from 46 different schools, mostly in Monroe County. Attendees from other RIT summer camps also attended to connection.

“It is really exciting,” said Jodi Carville, director of the Women in Engineering Program. “It’s the first time we’ve had such an event here at campus at RIT. A lot of work goes into preparing this 10-minute conversation.”

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Students had the opportunity to ask questions to astronaut Sunita Williams, currently aboard the International Space Station and in line to be its next mission commander.

“I thought it was pretty cool because they’re actually still in space,” said Rachel Doane, who is going into fifth grade at Mendon Center Elementary in Pittsford.

“I liked what she said about plugging her drink,” with a straw so that the liquid doesn’t pour out, she said, adding that math and science are her favorite subjects. “I thought that was kind of funny.”

Among the questions campers asked were, “What food does Williams miss most in space?” — pizza — and “How long did it take to build the space station?” — about 10 years. Williams also described how she could see the Statue of Liberty from outer space and divulged that some of the astronauts get haircuts in space — though it can get a bit hairy.

“You have to be careful because you can get hair all over the place,” she said.

When asked what they should study in school to become an astronaut, Williams said that there are astronauts from a variety of backgrounds, including engineering and piloting, but that they should take lots of science and math classes.

Susan Lochner, an eighth-grade science teacher from Barker Road Middle School in Pittsford, has been an instructor at the camp for three years. The camp, she said, is an opportunity for girls to explore career fields they might not have otherwise considered.

“Oftentimes, girls make decisions about their future and don’t always see their potential,” she said. “It gives kids the opportunity to recognize what their skill set is and how it can apply to careers.”

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