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Astronaut shares love of hams, space to radio club

July 01, 2002|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

Ron Parise is an astronaut with two space shuttle trips to his credit. But he is especially proud to be a "ham" in space.

Parise spent time Sunday with members of the Antietam Radio Association, not only to help them celebrate their 50 years as amateur radio operators, or hams, but to share his experiences as a colleague who got to extend his hobby into space.

Ham radio operators use two-way radio stations to communicate with each other over radio waves that span the earth - and now beyond.

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"I was in communication with many ham radio operators while I was in space," Parise said.

"It's been my hobby for many, many years even before I was an astronaut," he said.

Parise was aboard Columbia in December 1990, and flew again in March 1995 on Endeavour.

"I had a dream come true, not once but twice," he said.

Sunday's event commemorated the beginning of the club on June 10, 1952. Still going strong, the Hagerstown-based group has about 85 members in four states who meet monthly at the Hagerstown Regional Airport.

The highlight of the presentation Sunday came when Parise played a tape recording of a number of ham radio transmissions he had while in space. Even with the static and difficulty understanding the content, the excitement in the operators' voices was unmistakable.

"On one flight, we had a Motorola transmitter with a lot of ham stations coming in on it," Parise said. "The antenna was mounted on the window of the shuttle, which worked well as long as it was pointed toward the earth."

A payload specialist with a doctorate in astronomy, Parise, 51, communicated with 26 school groups and several hundred individual ham radio operators while logging 10.6 million miles in space.

"I don't know if I talked with any of Antietam's members ... there were so many," Parise said.

Antietam President Herman Niedzielski said it was a special occasion to have Parise speak to the club, not only because he is an astronaut but because he shares the ham radio passion.

A slide presentation with pictures taken both inside and outside the shuttle was also a crowd pleaser Sunday at the Wilson Ruritan Hall.

Eating and sleeping while weightless in outer space for days upon days can become quite taxing, Parise said. Still, when one is able to look out a window and see the outline of the earth with its mountains, volcanoes and other landmarks, it's all worthwhile.

And talking to other ham radio enthusiasts on earth was like the icing on the cake, Parise said.

In addition to enjoying their hobby, ham radio operators also volunteer their services when disaster strikes, providing backup emergency communications and coordination between emergency service agencies.

Local hams participate in disaster drills to provide patient information to American Red Cross disaster relief workers.

For more information on the Antietam Radio Association, visit the club's Web site at www.w3cwc.org.

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