Naval Academy engineer Bob Bruninga has written software that will allow students to exchange eMail messages with the crew of the Russian space station Mir. Bruninga’s software will allow anyone within a 2,000-mile radius of the orbiting station to send an eMail message via the cosmonauts’ amateur radio system.

Bruninga sees teachers using the software to spur an interest in science among their students. “This would be like a chat room for schools, live via Mir, to talk about outer space,” he said.

The software is available to schools at no charge and can be downloaded at http://web.usna.navy.mil/~bruninga/mirex.html. To transmit messages, you’ll need a special radio modem called a terminal node controller, which costs around $150. But any school can monitor the exchanges between other schools and Mir. You can scroll through all the messages being sent, and the location of Mir and the sender appear as blinking points on a map of the United States.

Bruninga’s ultimate goal is to make the site interactive, with cosmonauts and astronauts at computer terminals typing responses to some of the questions that are beamed up from below.