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When Isabella Payne heads back to elementary school in September, she’s going to have the best “what I did in my vacation” story to tell.
In a tale of “right place, right time,” the 8-year-old girl from Kent in southeast England spoke with American astronaut Kjell Lindgren aboard the International Space Station (ISS) using her dad’s ham radio.
On August 2, Isabella had just dropped off to sleep when her dad woke her up, dragged her out to the radio and thrust a microphone in her face.
“I was like ‘Why are you doing this to me? I need my beauty sleep,’” Isabella told CNN on Wednesday.
From her dad’s lap, she told Lindgren her name and age. “His voice instantly changed from normal to joyful,” she said. “You could hear his smile.”
“I was elated when I heard his voice,” she added. “I thought it was a dream.”
After their conversation, Lindgren told followers on Twitter about it, saying his chat with Isabella may be his “favorite contact so far.”
Isabella’s dad, Matthew Payne, 42, said he has held an amateur radio license for 22 years. He told CNN that conversations with astronauts are kept short, with a brief mention of your call sign – every person with a license is allocated one by official agencies – to tell them who you are, your name, and a quick thank you and goodbye.
“They’re only in the sky above us for 10 to 15 minutes and we want as many people as possible down here to have that kind of experience,” Payne explained.
He said the ISS has an amateur radio station aboard that is used by astronauts to make contact with schools while in orbit. Occasionally, during their downtime, they also “call out” to any amateur radio operators on Earth.
“I heard through the communities that I’m part of that he (Lindgren) was using the radio, so we listened for a couple of weeks … and one evening I heard him call,” Payne recounted.
Both father and daughter are space and radio fans, Payne said, adding that Isabella had been sitting on his knee since she was a baby, watching “all the launches, all the space station events, all the space walks” together.
In April 2016, Payne helped students from a local school speak with British astronaut Tim Peake while he was aboard the ISS. At the time, Isabella was just 2, and in her usual position on his knee.
Since her unforgettable evening this month, Isabella has spoken with media organizations and has even had email correspondence with NASA – all of which is good preparation for her long-term ambition to become a communication specialist for the space agency.
“I want to talk to the astronauts and say, for example: ‘Good morning, Sam. Is everything still floating around up there like it’s supposed to?’”