HAMMOND -- A group of children waited anxiously for their chance to talk to an astronaut orbiting 220 miles above the Earth on the International Space Station, during a two-way contact Thursday afternoon coordinated through Purdue University Calumet's Amateur Radio Society.

"We made application to NASA for this contact about a year ago," said Edward Perosky, Purdue Calumet electrical and computer engineering technology academic adviser and faculty adviser to the Amateur Radio Society. "There are more than 500 applications for contacts from various schools and institutions around the world. Due to the number of applications, it will be quite a while before we could get another contact scheduled."

The club's Mark Skowronski of Schererville worked the radio for the event.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," he said. "We have antennas on the roof, the crew came together and we prepared the kids."

Even at over 200 miles above the earth, astronaut Ed Lu was charming to the children.

"The launch feels like a giant put his hands on you and pushed you into space," Lu said.

Students attending summer space camps at the Challenger Learning Center submitted e-mail questions, and the best 16 were selected.

"I'm going to ask him if it's hard to breathe," said Teddy Fitzgerald, 9, of Griffith. "I really like space and I think it will be just really cool to talk to astronauts."

Mary Ann Monaldi, 9, of Dyer, was more practical.

"I want to know how they bathe," she said. "How does the water get up and how do they get in."

The program, Amateur Radio on International Space Station (ARISS), was created in 1996 to meet certain objectives and was the logical outgrowth of amateur radio activities on the Mir space station and the space shuttle. On Thursday, large maps on the wall tracked the footprint of the space station. Skowronski began trying to make contact when the space station drew near, and then had approximately 10 minutes of conversation before breaking up again.

This was just one activity for students at the Challenger Learning Center. The Challenger Center uses Challenger and Columbia simulators to help children explore space through innovative programs, hopefully fostering students' interest in science, math and technology.

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