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Since 09-25-04

NASA International Space Station Science Officer Mike Fincke, KE5AIT, told youngsters at an elementary school in Japan September 17 that he's been so busy during his duty tour in space that it's hard to believe it's almost over.

Fincke spoke via Amateur Radio from NA1SS aboard the space station with fifth and sixth-graders at Aoyama Gakuin Elementary School near Tokyo. The contact was arranged by the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) program.

Fincke answered the youngsters' questions in both Japanese and English.

"Because we are working so hard, it seems that the time goes by very, very fast," Fincke said. "We are already five months into our mission, and it feels to me that we started yesterday."

Fincke and ISS Expedition 9 Commander Gennady Padalka, RN3DT, will wrap up their six-month stay aboard the ISS in mid-October. Fincke told the students that the two have gotten along well during their time aboard the ISS by exercising "a lot of patience."

One Aoyama pupil asked Fincke if his stay in space had made him more religious. Fincke answered in the affirmative.

"Because this is very dangerous, and I have had a chance to think about things, and I think I should thank God every day for letting me have this opportunity and for keeping me safe," he said.

Control operator of 8J1AGE at the school was Kuniori Togai, 7M4NEK, who once attended Aoyama Gakuin Elementary School and now is a junior in high school. In all, Fincke answered 13 questions during the approximately 10-minute contact.

On hand at the school were nearly 200 visitors, including reporters from four television stations, one radio station, four newspapers and a monthly magazine. Among those taking it all in was Japan Amateur Radio League President Shozo Hara, JA1AN.

The following day, an Amateur Radio conversation with Fincke was a main attraction of "The Long Night of the Stars" event held at the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany. Some 175 institutions, observatories and organizations in Germany, Switzerland and Austria joined forces for the occasion.

During the direct VHF contact between the Center's DL0ESA and NA1SS, Fincke extended greetings from Padalka and himself.

In a lengthy monologue, Fincke outlined what he and Padalka have been doing aboard the ISS in recent days. Recent tasks included installing antennas during a space walk for the automated transfer vehicle or ATV, a European Space Agency project. "It was very exciting for us to step outside into the cosmos with only several millimeters of fabric and a little bit of metal between us and the entire cosmos," he said.

Fincke said he was looking forward to the future when all humans can explore the stars, "not just through a telescope, but to venture there together. We're working hard at the International Space Station toward that goal."

Rolf Maarschalkerweerd, DK7FU, was the ground station operator at DL0ESA for the ESOC contact with NA1SS. The entire conversation was broadcast live throughout the Center.

"It was a nice late summer evening, and the sky was clear," said ARISS Europe Chairman Gaston Bertels, ON4WF. "The crowd followed the ARISS contact on the big screen outside, and at the same time could see the ISS crossing the sky as a bright moving star. Quite an experience!"

Some 1200 visitors and 150 staff members were at the ESOC for the occasion. Another 500 visitors at nearby Mannheim Radio Observatory also listened in on the conversation.

An additional 120,000 witnessed the contact at participating observatories and institutions in the three neighboring countries.

The event also attracted the attention of 28 journalists and their associated staff members from 11 newspapers and magazines, four news agencies, the Hessen TV station--which relayed the contact to its main national channel--and four radio stations.

ARISS is an international educational outreach with US participation by ARRL, AMSAT and NASA.

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