Ham Radio Club contacts, speaks to Morgan aboard ISS

Story and photo by Brandon O’Connor PV Assistant Editor

October 24th, 2019 | In Focus, News
 Class of 2022 Cadet Easton Bolin talks with Col. Drew Morgan aboard the International Space Station Saturday using a ham radio. The radio link between West Point and the International Space Station lasted for about 10 minutes.

“Whiskey Two Kilo Golf Yankee this is November Alpha One Sierra Sierra.”
More than 250 miles above Earth aboard the International Space Station, Col. Drew Morgan, U.S. Military Academy Class of 1998, worked to make contact with his alma mater.
“Whiskey Two Kilo Golf Yankee this is November Alpha One Sierra Sierra.”
On the receiving end of Morgan’s message from space were members of the Ham Radio Club at the U.S. Military Academy. A radio antenna atop Bartlett Hall worked to track the International Space Station as it passed overhead while members of the club programmed their Ham Radio in order to answer the call from space.
“November Alpha One Sierra Sierra this is Whiskey Two Kilo Golf Yankee.”
After adjusting their frequencies and getting the device programmed correctly, the Ham Radio Club was able to talk with Morgan during a brief window of availability on Saturday morning.
“Welcome on board the International Space Station and before we lose signal, I’ve got to say Beat Navy,” Morgan said once West Point was able to successfully answer his call.
The conversation marked the second time West Point has made contact with the International Space Station with the first coming in 2007, Col. Stephen Hamilton, the officer in charge of the Ham Radio Club, said, but it was the first time the connection was made using West Point equipment.
“I think the most important thing is it inspires them because it’s not just talking to an astronaut, but this is somebody who was at West Point in their shoes just 21 years ago,” Hamilton said of why they planned the call.
The radio link between West Point and the International Space Station lasted for about 10 minutes, but the brief call took months of planning. It typically takes a year to get scheduled to speak with an astronaut via ham radio, Hamilton said, but West Point was able to expediate the process thanks to Morgan’s connection with the academy.
The planning started over the summer before Morgan launched. The conversation was originally scheduled to take place in August but had to be bumped due to the astronauts’ schedules. Hamilton was able to coordinate with NASA to reschedule, but even with months of planning the window for the call and whether Morgan would have time was still up in the air in the days leading up to it.
“It was really awesome to be able to see the systems that I’ve actually had some hands on work with, and troubleshooting over the past few weeks, see them actually work almost flawlessly to do a really impressive communication,” Class of 2021 Cadet Chase Lewis, one of the cadets who was able to talk with Morgan, said.
After exchanging hellos and a Beat Navy to start the conversation, members of the club were able to go one-by-one and ask Morgan questions until the window closed and the call went dead. They had the chance to ask Morgan about the role the Army plays in space operations and how he works through challenges while in space,  including working with astronauts from multiple countries. He also gave advice to cadets who aspire to become astronauts in the future.
“When I think back over my career, the things that have gotten me through the tough times is thinking about serving something bigger than myself,” Morgan said. “This experience is no different than that. While this has been professionally very rewarding and lots of fun, it’s been challenging me in ways I just never expected. The thing that motivates me is knowing that I’ve been serving my country since I showed up at West Point as an 18-year-old.”
The West Point Ham Radio Club meets weekly and when they aren’t talking to the International Space Station, they are able to contact and speak with amateur radio operators all throughout the world from the confines of the second floor of Bartlett Hall.
To watch a video of the entire conversation between West Point and the International Space Station, see the West Point-U.S. Military Academy Facebook page.