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Teen From Normal Earns Top Ham Radio Honor, Talks Space Exploration

Dhruv Rebba
Hari Rebba
Dhruv Rebba, a 15-year-old from Normal, has been named Young Ham of the Year.

Amateur radio, or ham radio, can be a fun hobby for some, but it can also open many doors for the future.

Dhruv Rebba, 15, of Normal was recently named the Amateur Radio Newsline Young Ham of the Year for his outstanding work in amateur radio. In 2017, Rebba was part of the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) project and is now a co-mentor. He received his amateur radio license when he was 9, and now uses his expertise for charity work.

“I think amateur radio is kind of like a stepping stone to a lot of various different fields. If you get into amateur radio, you can get into a lot of engineering-related fields, for example, the space industry,” said Rebba.

Rebba said he is hoping to pursue a career in aerospace engineering and satellite communications.

NASA is hoping to build a space station orbiting the moon, called the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway Space Station. The goal of this space station is to allow astronauts to have a checkpoint between Earth and other planets.

NASA wants to send a human exploration team to Mars within the next decade, and Rebba said the Gateway Space Station is one of the stepping stones towards that goal. NASA and other commercial space industries are using amateur radio to make a communication link between astronauts on the moon and engineers on Earth. 

“Putting amateur radio on the Gateway Space Station is kind of like the furthest we've taken amateur radio itself. And the experiences that we have on the Gateway Space Station could help with Mars communications as well. Because on Mars, we don't have cell phone towers or anything. So we'll essentially have to use ham radio communication devices for contact,” said Rebba.

Only one other recipient of the Young Ham of the Year has pursued a career in aerospace. Rebba said the other recipients have pursued “distance radio,” which is called “DX.” In amateur radio, DXing is where individuals or groups of people travel to a remote location and contact other countries through radio. There are numerous competitions for DXing, and DXing is also used for maritime and naval communication. 

In 2018, Rebba and a few other teens traveled to Kurosawa Island for the Dave Kalter Memorial Youth DX Adventure, where his group set the record of making 6,262 contacts with 135 countries in five days. Rebba emphasized this record can be broken, and DXing allows intercultural communication between individuals. 

Other countries are shifting towards space exploration, which Rebba said he is optimistic about.

“I think it's good that more and more countries are wanting to go to space. It creates more enthusiasm for space, and more of a drive to go into space to explore out of the planet,” said Rebba. He also said he believes with more international effort, there will be more regulations in space debris, and more drive to find solutions for human exploration of space.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
Katie Seelinger is an intern in the GLT newsroom.