He went into his corner office, the one with two computers, numerous gizmos and gadgets, maps and dials, and sat at his desk. He checked his monitors. He aimed one of three large antennas on the roof of his rural Shaftsbury home. He positioned himself behind his mic.
"Kilo, Alpha, One, Delta, Lima, Kilo," he said deliberately.
There was a few moments of static and then a response.
"Kilo, Alpha, One, Delta, Lima, Kilo go ahead," a voice said.
"Hello Richard," Powloka replied. "I hope you have a successful return to Earth. Make sure you don't leave anything behind."
There was more static, a brief chuckle, and then a final response. "We've made a very nice checklist," the voice said. "It'll certainly be hard to find something if I leave it up here."
Powloka shut down his computer and went to work.
Powloka is a ham radio operator. On Wednesday, he spoke to Richard Garriott, a video game mogul who spent $30 million to board the International Space Station.
Garriott, whose father Owen Garriott was an astronaut, returned to Earth on Thursday. During his 10-day stay in orbit, he had four brief conversations with Powloka.
Powloka, 46, has spoken to many astronauts using his ham radio over the past 20 years. On Nov. 28, 1988, he had his first contact with two Soviet cosmonauts, Vladimir Titov and Mousa Manarov. He was one of the first Americans to use ham to reach the Soviets in space. He said he has been hooked ever since.
"I got bitten by that aspect of ham radio back then," he said while waiting for Garriott to get in range Wednesday afternoon. "I've always followed hams in space since then. It's just a cool thing to do."
Powloka said building his station over the years has been part of the enjoyment. He said the feeling of contacting someone in outer space hasn't changed, even though it has almost become routine. "The feeling when I did it 20 years ago was just like the feeling when I did it today," he said. "It's just like, 'Wow.' It's just the feel of joy and elation knowing that you can do something like this."
The Americans have brought ham, also known as amateur, radios to space since the early 1980s. In fact, Owen Garriott was the first astronaut to use the device in orbit. His son has used it to talk to numerous school children about science and technology, to reach his family and to speak with hundreds of ham radio operators like Powloka.
The International Space Station flies at about 17,000 mph, 250 miles off the Earth's surface.
Powloka said amateur radio operators, or "hams" as they're known, do serve a practical purpose in society. To own the equipment, you have to be licensed by the FCC, and hams like Powloka are trained as Radio Civil Amateur Emergency Service (RACES) officers to step forward in the event of an emergency.
"The first thing that goes down in an emergency is usually local communications infrastructure," he said. "They rely on us because they know we're a trained pool of radio operators."
Powloka is one of about 30 members in the Southern Vermont Amateur Radio Club. In addition to disaster training and contacting space, he said hams sometimes go on "deexpeditions" to remote islands, where they contact fellow hams. There is also constant local chatter to pass the time.
He said there has been talk of bringing a ham to Mars when, or if, a mission is made. "That would be the ultimate," he said.
Frequent attempts to reach Garriott Wednesday afternoon were unsuccessful. However, using ham, he did send a photograph of the station's cargo bay.
Contact John D. Waller at firstname.lastname@example.org