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International Space Station Reference

Ham Radio
So, You Want to be a Ham?

You've got it -- the ham radio bug. It's hitting a lot of people these days! We'll show you how easy it is to earn a Federal Communications Commission Amateur Radio License.

The rules for earning an Amateur Radio license vary depending on which country you live in. The Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, issues amateur radio licenses in the United States. In the U.S., there are three license levels, or "license classes."

Who are hams and what do they do?

Hams share fascination with communicating. They're from all walks of life, and nearly all nations. They communicate by voice, data (computers), Morse code and other exciting ways hams have found to make contact with other hams. You never know who you'll run into -- maybe a nurse in France, a neighbor across town, an orbiting space shuttle astronaut or a factory worker in China.

How Do I Get Started?

Getting started in Amateur Radio has never been easier. First, locate a radio club in your area. Some radio clubs offer ham radio licensing classes, or they can find a club volunteer to answer your questions. You may even be invited to attend a local radio club meeting.

The American Radio Relay League, or ARRL, publishes popular ham radio license study guides to help you learn the things you'll need to pass your exam and have fun with Amateur Radio.

The Amateur Radio license examinations are administered by ham radio volunteers. When you're ready to take your exam, you'll need to locate an exam session near you.

What can I do with a Technicians Class license?

Hams enter the hobby as Technicians by passing a multiple-choice examination. The exam covers basic regulations, operating practices, and electronics theory, with a focus on VHF and UHF applications.

Technician Class operators are authorized to use all amateur VHF and UHF frequencies (all frequencies above 30 MHz). No Morse code exam is required at any level.

What can I do with a General Class license?

The General Class is a giant step up in operating privileges. The high-power HF privileges granted to General licensees allow for cross-country and worldwide communication. Some people prefer to earn the General Class license as their first ticket, so they may operate on HF right away.

Technicians may upgrade to General Class by passing a multiple-choice examination. The written exam covers intermediate regulations, operating practices, and electronics theory, with a focus on HF applications.

In addition to the Technician privileges, General Class operators are authorized to operate on any frequency in the 160, 30, 17, 12, and 10 meter bands. They may also use significant segments of the 80, 40, 20, and 15 meter bands.

What can I do with an Extra Class license?

The HF bands can be awfully crowded, particularly at the top of the solar cycle. Once one earns HF privileges, one may quickly yearn for more room. The Extra Class license is the answer.

General licensees may upgrade to Extra Class by passing a 50-question multiple-choice examination. In addition to some of the more obscure regulations, the test covers specialized operating practices, advanced electronics theory, and radio equipment design. Frankly, the test is very difficult, but others have passed it, and you can too.

Extra Class licensees are authorized to operate on all frequencies allocated to the Amateur Service.

I've heard ham radio's expensive...

No doubt some hams spend a lot of their budget on their radios. But others "work the world" with a homemade wire antenna and an inexpensive transceiver. Many people start out with simple gear, and move on to more sophisticated equipment later.

Okay, you've got me what do I do next?

Simple. Contact the ARRL in Newington, Conn. ARRL is the nationwide membership association of ham radio operators in the United States. They'll be glad to tell you about licensing classes in your area.

Onboard the Station
IMAGE:  Expedition Five Flight Engineer Sergei Treschev
Expedition Five Flight Engineer Sergei Treschev communicates with people on Earth using the International Space Station's ham radio.

Related Links

Shuttle Amateur Radio Experiment (SAREX)
Amateur Radio International Space Station (ARISS)
Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation (AMSAT)
American Radio Relay League (ARRL)
Federal Communications Commission
Wanna Be a Ham?What is AMSAT?AntennasCurriculumPhase 1SAREXRadio ClubsHam Radio

Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 06/16/2008
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