Ham radio operators shoot for the moon
Scores of Bay Area ham radio operators will aim high this weekend to see who can bounce their signals off the moon in an effort to talk to friends far away.
It won’t be an easy feat; it has never been tried before, said Doug Teter, a computer cable specialist who is coordinating the effort led by the Palo Alto Amateur Radio Alliance, but alliance members will have a go at it, competing to see who can be the first to talk to a friend on the other side of the United States or Canada.
Radio signals normally are reflected off various layers of Earth’s ionosphere, which ranges from about 55 to 375 miles high. The moon is 225,000 to 252,000 miles away, depending on its point of orbit around Earth.
It’s a lot tougher for ham radio operators to bounce signals off the moon than off the ionosphere, said Teter, a ham operator whose “handle,” or call sign is KG6LWE.
“The moon is far less than a perfect reflector,” Teter said. “Its surface is rough and it keeps moving all the time, which means we’ll have to keep moving our antennas constantly as we follow it.”
The effort is part of a global celebration to commemorate the Apollo moon landings of 40 years ago. The ham radio operators will set up their shoe box-size radio rigs in Menlo Park’s Bedwell Bayfront Park and their elaborate specialized antennas of varying heights should festoon the park’s holiday grounds like a strange high-tech metallic forest, Teter said.
It will be a 24-hour competition for the Palo Alto-based operators, starting at 11 a.m. today and ending at the same time Sunday, Teter said.
The effort is part of what passionate amateur radio people have termed “international moon bounce day.” Other ham operators around the world will try the same thing.
Throughout the Bay Area, amateurs who decide not to try to bounce their signals from the moon with their own ham radios will be able to send their voice signals to large radio telescopes like SRI International’s “big dish” behind the Stanford campus.
Signals from there will go to the moon and back to any one of a dozen other radio telescopes at places like Morehead State University in Kentucky, the Dwingeloo radio dish in Holland, or the Mount Pleasant Observatory’s radio telescope at the University of Tasmania in Australia.
The “Echoes of Apollo” project is a worldwide celebration, organized by ham radio operators in Australia and America, and will continue through August with space-themed concerts, star parties, writing competitions and exhibits, according to Patrick Barthelow, who is the American coordinator of the events. Plans are under way to continue the project throughout the next four years to stimulate public interest in space science.
America’s Apollo program climaxed with history’s first moon landing by humans when Apollo 11 reached the lunar surface July 20, 1969. Five more Apollo spacecraft with humans aboard also landed there in following years, with the final landing by Apollo 17 on Dec. 19, 1972.
That ended America’s human ventures to the moon – so far, at least.
This article appeared on page B – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle