North Pole children 'hitch' satellite ride

In this photo from Saturday, November 30, 2013, Mike Perry's grandkids, from left, Kailey, 5, Riley, 9, Denny, 10, and Derik, 9, pose in front of the satellite tracking station located on Perry's North Pole property. Perry's grandkids had their names attached to the inside of a satellite that was recently launched into space. (AP Photo,Eric Engman/Fairbanks Daily News-Miner)

FAIRBANKS — The Perry kids have gone from the Last Frontier to the Final Frontier in the past week.

The North Pole residents — Daniel Perry, 10, Derik Perry, 9, Riley Perry, 9, and Kailey Perry, 5 — have their names orbiting more than 400 miles above the Earth today, aboard a tiny “micro satellite” as it drifts through space.

The voyage comes courtesy of their grandfather, Mike Perry, who suddenly became landlord to a collection of satellite-monitoring equipment about a year ago. SpaceQuest, a Virginia-based technology company, found Perry and his property off the Richardson Highway while looking for a site in the far north for collecting data.

Perry and SpaceQuest’s co-owner, Mark Kanawati, are both ham radio enthusiasts who met through the Arctic Amateur Radio Club. They formed a friendship during the past year, which led to a once-in-a-lifetime offer: Would Perry like his grandkids’ names immortalized in space?

“He had met the grandkids when he was up here, and he asked if he could do this for them,” Mike Perry said.

Their names and birthdates are in a SpaceQuest satellite that was launched Nov. 21 aboard a Russian SS-18 intercontinental ballistic missile.

SpaceQuest designs satellite components, then packs them inside tiny micro-satellites — typically less than a cubic foot in size — that are sent into space. If those components continue to function, they can be considered “space tested” and marketed to the Defense Department or companies that launch satellites, Kanawati said.

The kids — brothers, Daniel and Derik, and their cousins, Riley and Kailey — don’t quite realize how rare it is to be part of an orbiting satellite, Mike Perry said. He said they’ll appreciate the gesture more as they get older.

“They just think it’s cool,” said Daniel and Derik’s father, Will Perry.

Putting names or photos inside satellites is something of a tradition. Kanawati said engineers usually can’t resist scratching their initials on something before it’s launched into orbit.

But at SpaceQuest, the practice has reached a new level. Photos and names commonly are tucked inside the company’s micro-satellites, and Kanawati even sent up a sample of hair from his niece, Leena, in case aliens want to check out some human DNA.

“Maybe they’ll clone it and we’ll have 2 million Leenas roaming the universe,” he said.

Kanawati said he and his partner, Dino Lorenzini, have been involved in launching 22 spacecraft, including 10 owned by SpaceQuest. The latest one will orbit the Earth 15 times a day for the next 25 to 30 years before its likely destruction while re-entering the atmosphere.

Kanawati said he frequently speaks to classes about space. Putting children’s names in orbit is one way to spark their interest.

“The excitement to me is to have their eyes wide open and interested,” Kanawati said.

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