HOMER, Ill. (AP) _ A ham radio operator says it was ''more or less luck'' that he was able to talk with a space shuttle astronaut while about 10,000 other operators tried to make contact with Challenger.

Bill Butler's signal was picked up Sunday afternoon by astronaut Tony England and the two men exchanged a few brief messages in ham radio code before signing off.

''It was a contest type of atmosphere trying to reach him,'' said Butler, who uses a computer tracking device to accurately point his antenna. ''All those (radio) operators sounded like a beehive.''

Butler said he was on the last day of his vacation and had just about given up hope of contacting the space shuttle.

Butler had about eight minutes to make contact with the orbiting astronauts.

''I'd just about given up since I was almost out of time,'' said Butler. ''It was definitely the high point of my vacation.''

Butler's last words were: ''QSL, lots of luck.'' The QSL means ''greetings and salutations,'' he said.