Space Camp – An Empty Nest Journey
3, 2, 1, mark. Pilot, you are a go to start auxiliary power units. Station you are a go to begin experiments. Gimbal check complete. ET arm is retracting. It will be fully retracted in 30 seconds. We are 2 minutes from lift off. All crew members are ready for lift off. That is what goes on in the control center at Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama when you are performing a mock shuttle launch.
Space Camp, I never knew it was a real thing when I watched the movie back in 1987. As a kid watching the movie, I thought, “Wow! How cool to be accidentally sent into space, Hollywood comes up with the neatest ideas.” Of course, thinking of all the ways that you could die – starvation, frozen, hit by a meteor or asteroid, blowing up in a massive fireball upon reentry – never occurred to me.
Never To Old
It was not until much later I learned that it was a real thing. I know what you are thinking; Space Camp is just for kids, why am I writing about it? It is not just for kids! It is also for empty nesters that want to have the feeling of experiencing something they missed as a child. Just let me tell you, are never too old to experience being an astronaut. They had a 90-year-old woman one year join their ranks. There would never be an accidental launch of kids into space to fend for themselves, but there is the opportunity to get a glimpse into the life of an astronaut.
Space Camp, created in 1982 by Werner von Braun and Edward O. Buckbee, is located in Huntsville, Alabama at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. It was based on the US space program to teach children about rockets, science, and math. Today, the camp provides educational programs for children and adults with challenges in aviation, robotics, and space – all geared to emphasize knowledge in engineering, technology, science, and aviation.
The Teams and Their Functions
My team was divided into three groups – the Control Center, the Station – where experiments are performed, and the cockpit crew. The Control Center tells the pilots which buttons to push, switches to flip, knobs to turn, and when to do it. If there is a problem on the shuttle, it is the Control Center that tells the crew how to correct it.
The cockpit crew takes the shuttle out of orbit into the great expanse of space and brings it back to Earth safely. Or in our case, they just flipped switches and took selfies. After all, we were a group of travel writers on this great adventurous tour during TBEX (Travel Bloggers Exchange Conference). I will give our pilot, Eric kudos; it only took him two tries to land the shuttle back on Earth. The second time, he was nearly spot on!
The Station Crew had an assortment of mysterious “space substances” that they combined to performed real experiments. They had to create a hypothesis about the experiment and then compare what happened. Some of the experiments bubbled while others changed colors.
One of the more challenging activities was MAT, the multi-axis trainer. Created during the Mercury program to train astronauts how to regain control of the capsule if it were to spin out of control in multiple directions at the same time while in space. This specialized training was not needed during the Mercury program, but it was used by Neil Armstrong and Dave Scott when a maneuvering thruster became stuck when they piloted the Gemini VIII. Regaining control of the capsule used so much propellant that they were forced to end the mission early.
I was a bit disappointed that there were no controls in the MAT so we could test ourselves and see if we could stop the spin. As it turns out, it was probably a good thing there weren’t any. It was very disorienting. I did not feel nauseous. I did feel a bit disoriented from the pressure in my head from the spinning and across my back from the G-forces pushing me into the seat.
Taking the MAT for a spin…
Would I do it again?
Would I recommend Space Camp, Aviation Challenge, and Robotics Camp to any child, young adult, or even young-at-heart adult that is interested in science or engineering technology? Absolutely! These camps could and very possibly, should be bucket list items.
Many thanks to my fellow teammates for a safe return home.