How Lost Hikers Can Send an SOS to Space

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Last July, two hikers were backpacking in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest of California. Just northeast of Granite Lake, a small body of water bordered by a fall and a rocky mountain, one of them fell and was too injured to continue.

From their supplies, they removed a personal locator tag. They extended the antenna of the device and pressed the button below. Immediately, a radio signal began to emit at 406 megahertz, and finally hit the detectors of the satellites in orbit. These instruments, which are part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (Sarsat) satellite-assisted tracking program (Sarsat), picked up the signal and immediately sent alerts to Earth.

Someone has problems near Covington Mill, California, the alerts told the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, along with details about who owned the device and how to contact them. Soon, a helicopter headed for the latitude and longitude of the distressed hikers. After picking up the two hikers, the plane took them to the hospital.

As for the desert relief calls, it was not only a happy ending, it was easy. (This incident, along with thousands of others, lives on in the Sarsat incident history database.) Locating the hikers did not require scrubbing the trail start sheets or deciphering notes engraved on cars left in the car. starting point. That’s the decent thing to do, and it should end there. ” Sarsat is a little-known American program that aims to save lost or injured hikers and climbers, drivers of all-terrain vehicles and overturned snowmobiles, sailors aboard sinking ships, and passengers on crashed planes. It is part of an international collaboration called Cospas-Sarsat, in which 45 countries and two independent organizations participate. The system is based on simple devices that have a job: send a distress signal that reveals the location, anywhere and in any weather, and a system of satellites that hear these calls. “If you really need to save your life, this is what I think will help you,” says Sarsat terrestrial systems engineer Jesse Reich.

As of 2022, the NOAA database has more than 723,000 registered rescue devices, most owned by those who hope to never use them again. However, more than 50,000 people worldwide have been rescued because they activated their 406 beacons, sending an SOS signal into space.

SARSAT started later an incident that could have benefited from its technology: in 1972, two members of Congress, Hale Boggs and Nick Begich, were flying in a twin-engine Cessna 310 through Alaska. His plane went missing in a remote region in bad weather. A search of 325,000 square miles that lasted 39 days and 90 planes found nothing. The search was suspended and politicians and his plane remain missing to this day.

Congress then declared that planes had to carry emergency beacons that would be issued automatically in the event of an accident. But the plan had a technological limitation: Another The plane should fly close to answer the call. NASA, perhaps not surprisingly, realized that satellites would have a much broader view and could also study the large strips of the planet that are, in fact, the ocean. A group of space agency scientists investigated what was possible, and by 1979 the United States, Canada, France, and the former Soviet Union had signed documents in Leningrad. The international collaboration, which would later become more official as Cospas-Sarsat, launched its first satellite in June 1982.

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