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By Pesi Fonua

NUKU’ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, March 15) - Residents of the scattered Ha’apai islands in central Tonga [south of the main island of Tongatapu] at the best of times find it difficult to make wireless contact with the outside world, but on February 26, Ha’apai made history when an Amateur Radio Operator, Paul Kidd of Lifuka spoke to astronaut, Bill McArthur of the International Space Station as it passed over Tonga.

Kidd said that an Amateur Operator friend Jim, who used to work for National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), sent him a data sheet, showing all the International Space Station passes that might work for Tonga.

"I'd never been interested in satellites, or space coms in general, but this sounded enticing, especially since NASA told me that I could do it with a handheld rig and a ground plane antenna," he said.

Kidd said that the rig he used was an old Kenwood TM-731A mobile rig, and the antenna he used was a "Signal One" vertical that he secured to a 20-foot piece of pipe that he hooked up to a piece of RG-213 and hoisted up against the side of the house.

Kidd said that for a week, he listened for NA1SS on every single pass on the data sheet. "All I ever heard was the packet beacon, but the signal was loud, so I kept trying."

On the morning of February 26 just before sunrise, Kidd said that a nine-minute pass was supposed to begin at 1723Z, but by 1727Z, he hadn't heard anything, not even the packet beacon.

"I was about to give it up and go and make some coffee. Then, I heard it: ‘CQ from NA1SS’ loud and clear. I fumbled for the microphone, dropped it once, and gave him a call. I was as nervous as I was when I made my first CW contact as a novice (KN9RIO) in 1959! He (astronaut Bill McArthur) came right back to me, and we yakked for five minutes, until his signal faded out. He thanked me for a ‘new one,’ he asked for my QSL card, promised me a special certificate in return, and asked me to listen for him again tomorrow morning. WOW!!!! That's a first for A35RK, (Kidd’s call signal) and a first for the Kingdom of Tonga!" said Kidd.

He was not able to make contact with the International Space Station again and he said that the mission was going to be ended sometime on the third week of March.

Meanwhile, Matangi Tonga Online gives astronaut Bill McArthur a badge for making a SSETI radio contact: "Successful Search for Exotic Tongan Island" - now we know an easier way to contact Ha'apai.

March 16, 2006

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