Before NASA will schedule a school for a SAREX contact, the school must submit an application to the American Radio Relay League. You must also submit an educational proposal along with the application. The ARRL will process your application and forward your proposal on to NASA and AMSAT for review. If accepted, your school will recieve a letter from the ARRL confirming your acceptance. The ARRL will also send you a packet of information to describe the contact process. Other information in the packet is for use in preparing lesson plans and class exercises. After your school's acceptance, your opportunity to speak with Shuttle, MIR or International Space Station (ISS), will be scheduled at a later date.
This is because there are many schools waiting for their opportunity, and scheduling is on a first-come first-serve basis. When your school has been scheduled on a specific flight, you will be notified. When you receive notification, you should activate your educational and technical plans. It is important that you do this as soon as you are told of your scheduled flight. Not doing this leaves you at serious risk of not being ready in time.
While each school's application and acceptance process is in a way unique, Harper McCaughan waited three years before they were able to talk to Col. Blaha on MIR. The application was submitted in May of 1994, and acknowledged by the ARRL within two weeks. A year passed with no word until May of 1995 when they were notified that they had been selected for one of three missions, the earliest was in the fall of 1995. AMSAT later decided that they were a prime candidate for a first round contact with MIR. This took them out of the Shuttle flight schedule and placed them at the head of the line for a MIR contact to occur in early 1996. Negotiations between the United States, NASA and Russia and the Russian Space Agency, along with FCC and State Department and their Russian counterparts took longer than anticipated. In mid-November 1996, they were notified by phone that they were on the schedule for a first round opportunity. The schedule was uncertain when they were notified, and they were told to be ready for a contact in the first half of December, 1996. Finally, the first round of contacts began the day after Christmas (right in the middle of Christmas Break!) and Harper McCaughan's contact occured right on the timeline finalized in Mid-December, 1996.
Be aware that Harper McCaughan's experience was unique to its selection for the first round of MIR contacts. However, each round of contacts, no matter which space vessel is contacted, has its own peculiar circumstances. The sequence Haper McCaughan went through is typical of all SAREX/MIREX contacts; however, the timing of the events will likely be different. Harper McCaughan's notification that they had been scheduled for the MIREX contact and the date of the contact was very tight. Considering that everyone involved had "Real" jobs that took priority, six weeks, working furiously in every spare moment, were required to assemble the team members, accquire needed equipment, make necessary repairs, and construct the station and all its supporting infrastructure (including antenna mast for the az/el rotors and the beam antennas). While a first-class station, like Harper McCaughn's, can be built and installed in six weeks, eight weeks is a more reasonable time.
The application process is described in detail in CHAPTER 4 of the SAREX Field Operations Guide.
Return to Contact Guide Main Page