My first radio contact with MIR Orbital Station

My first radio contact with the late MIR Orbital Station (MIR in Russian means PEACE) dates back to 1996. At that time, Russian cosmonaut Valery Korzun was the commander of the mission and an assiduous presence on the radio frequencies. Unfortunately, and for logistical reasons, I could not make a recording of the QSO, which still weighs heavily on my conscience. After all, it was my first contact with a manned space mission ever.

By then, the space station MIR was going through very difficult times and its “death” was practically announced. Not long after my contact, a fire in one of the station modules must have been well-engraved in the memory of Michael Foale, an American astronaut who was participating in the mission, at a time when the Russian program (which ran from 1995 to 1998) was having economic difficulties, namely the state-owned space construction company RKK Energia.

Jean-Pierre Haigneré goes onboard

Years later, precisely in 1999, and at a time when several European countries were establishing cooperation protocols with the Russians, Jean-Pierre Haigneré, engineer of the French Air Force and one of the astronauts (cosmonaut in the Russian version) of the European Space Agency (ESA), did not leave the credits to someone else’s hands and proved to be one of the cosmonauts traveling in space that made the most use of amateur communication equipment on board the MIR.

Jean-Pierre Haigneré
Cosmonaut Jean-Pierre Haigneré

Never give up

Due to relocation, I was deprived of fixed communications for some time, which forced me to use the car as the headquarters of radio operations. For several days, between early July and mid-August, I persistently tried to make contact with Jean-Pierre Haigneré, knowing in advance the difficulties of getting in touch with technical conditions which, if sufficient, could not compete on an equal footing with those of a fixed installation, more capable in terms of antennas and power. I had a laptop with satellite tracking software installed, a tape recorder and a compass. I was looking for geographically favorable places (with few obstacles around and a visibility, if possible, of 360º). For many weeks I tried unsuccessfully for a reply from space.

However, perseverance usually pays off. On August 14, 1999, in the late morning and in the city of Guimarães, surrounded by buildings, the reward comes.

Me: Tango Echo mobile, Tango Echo mobile…
JPH: Tango Echo mobile, je vous reçois Fort 3 claire 3!

Me: OK, ici c’est Charlie Tango 1 Echo Tango Echo, Charlie Tango 1 Echo Tango Echo en mobile et mon prenom c’est Paulo, je suis au Portugal, QSL Jean-Pierre?
JPH: OK Paulo, Charlie Tango 1 (unité) et puis je sais plus quoi, ça c’est pas important Paulo, je note rien… Merci en tout cas de ce contacte du Portugal et de parler français, c’est très agreable de vous parler, j’espere que tout va bien pour vous, c’est la station MIR qui vous parle, R0MIR.

Me: OK Jean-Pierre, dit-me……dit-mois si vous avez vu l’eclipse dans la station MIR Jean-Pierre, QSL?
JPH: Oui, oui… on a vu la trace au sol, le soleil également, on a vu une partie eclipsé dans la deuxième orbite quand’il était pas complètement oculté par la lune, mais en tout cas j’ai même envoyé des photos numériques au sol et je crois qu’elles apparaîtront en magasines la semaine prochaine…c’est assez curieux comme photos….

Me: Je suis très content de te contacter Jean-Pierre…et toutes mes amitiés pour tous, pour toi et pour l’equipage de la station MIR, de Charlie Tango 1 Echo Tango Echo mobile au Portugal, Paulo.
JPH: Charlie Tango 1 Echo Tango Echo mobile, Paulo, merci beaucoup de ce contacte, j’espere que tout va bien pour toi, soit prudent en voiture, et à bientôt j’espere, bonne journée.

Me: Bonne journée Jean-Pierre et toutes mes amitiés, 73.

Lunar Eclipse
Image: APOD (August 30, 1999) - photograph by Jean-Pierre Haigneré

After this feat - I used only 5 watts and a small 1/4 wave magnetic antenna - I would be far from imagining that the next day I would repeat the contact, this time with a 4 element Yagi in the left hand, pointed at my bedroom window, and my handheld in the right hand. The recording of the second contact with Jean-Pierre Haigneré can be heard below.

Me: Tango Echo, Tango Echo, le Portugal Jean-Pierre
JPH: Tango Echo, bonjour

Me: Bonjour, ici c’est Charlie Tango 1 Echo Tango Echo, Paulo au Portugal, nous avons parlé hier Jean-Pierre, QSL?
JPH: D’accord et bien, tout va bien à bord toujour, dimanche, on travail, je suis en train d’écrire plusieurs textes que je dois rendre, et puis les deux prochaines semaines vont être assez chargées parce qu’on a beaucoup de travail pour preparer la station et finaliser les experiences, voilá…et donc retour samedi 28. Merci de votre contacte, à bientôt.

Me: OK Jean-Pierre, merci beaucoup et à bientôt, plaisir de te recontacter le dimanche. Au revoir.

Farewell MIR

This would be my last contact with the MIR station. On March 23, 2001, the MIR reentered the earth’s atmosphere and disintegrated. These are memories of unforgettable times.

MIR reentry

In the same year, CT1EAT, Francisco Costa, appears on Portuguese TV Channel SIC showing one of his MIR QSO’s.