Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Space Campin'

On May 23rd, I posted the following update on Facebook (what I posted on Twitter had a lot fewer characters):
Some of the people I most instantly click with, months or years later, I learn they wish they'd gone to Space Camp. So… I’m seriously thinking of organizing just that. (Seriously.)
Thankfully, people took me seriously! About ten people expressed interest. Because Space Camp for adults is only available a few times each year, schedules often conflicted. But last weekend, four of us took one giant leap (on airplanes) down to Huntsville, Alabama.

Here we are the night before camp, walking around the fenced perimeter, gawking at the rockets, wearing our "You're never too old for Space Camp" t-shirts.

Jason Roer, Tracy Clark, Sandi Greene, and me 

To the left of the entrance is Habitat 1, the camp dorms. Boys are on one level, girls on another, and families on a third.

Jason and I grabbed our linen bags and ran to our room before any roommates could grab "our" top bunks.

The first thing we did as campers was listen to astronaut Robert "Hoot" Gibson give an inspiring presentation about his five missions aboard the space shuttle. He flew all but one of the shuttles, but the other was flown by his wife!

Each camper was assigned a missions team, and all four of us were put on Team Endeavour.

Then it was time to begin training as astronauts on their many high-end simulators.

Yes, things were a lot more high-tech than the above gift shop rocket.

Here we are sitting in Atlantis.

That photo was taken from a monitor in another part of the ship.

All four of us had seen the movie Space Camp, so were tossing around lines of dialogue several times per hour. When the counselors realized our geeky fandom for that movie, they informed us that this was the actual training shuttle used in that movie (modified for non-Hollywood use).

Throughout our three-day experience, we flew three shuttle missions. Some of us were astronauts, and some worked in Mission Control. For my first mission, I was Commander! Here I am, during training for the mission, gliding the shuttle in for a smooth(ish) landing.

After training, we got into flight suits to fly our first mission.

That mission didn't go too well because of miscommunication with Mission Control. Tracy sat to my right as Pilot, and when things got too crazy, we calmed ourselves down by singing Little Bunny Foo-Foo.

The next day, we performed other simulations, which included rides on the multi-axis trainer...


...and a walk on the moon, courtesy of a 1/6-gravity chair.

We wanted a group photo of us walking on the moon, but the teammate we handed the camera to accidentally flipped it to video.

Shortly after our simulated moonwalks, we learned of the passing of Neil Armstrong, the first man to actually walk on the moon. The tributes to Mr. Armstrong that played on monitors throughout camp made the rest of that day's training extra special, though bittersweet.

We finished building rockets we began to build the previous day. (Somehow, mine ended up on Launchpad 13.) The pinecone I placed in my rocket helped stabilize it as it shot through the air.

Tracy's rocket didn't fly quite as high, but it became a memorable launch when she informed Jason that his missing namebadge and lanyard were about to become astronauts.

For our next mission, I was at CAPCOM (Capsule Communicator), where I was the only person from Mission Control in communication with the shuttle crew (on the monitor above my station).

After our second mission, we sat in a capsule that spun until we reached 3.2 Gs.

For our third mission (lasting two hours), I was at the position of CATO (Communication and Tracking Officer), where I communicated with the public. I also took on the role of Flight Surgeon, solving medical emergencies in both Mission Control and on the shuttle.

Sunday was graduation day. While Team Endeavour didn't win first place for the design of our team patch, and we didn't win first place in the trivia contest, we did win first place for having the most successful mission!

That evening, we met fellow YA authors R.A Nelson (who actually works for NASA!) and Beck McDowell for dinner.

So, was Space Camp worth it? As a total geek for NASA and the Space Camp movie, it was absolutely worth it for the camp experience alone. But before Space Camp, Jason, Tracy, and Sandi were just friendly acquaintances. I critiqued Sandi's manuscript at a writing conference several years ago. I sent Tracy a congratulatory email when she won a Work-In-Progress grant that I'd previously won. And I had lunch with Jason, along with several other people, at a writing conference last year. Since those meetings, I've exchanged a few emails with each of them as their writing careers continued their countdowns to lift-off. But all four of us left Space Camp as full-fledged friends (with more inside-jokes in those three days than it's legal to acquire in most states).
In fact, we left Space Camp with a promise. In a few years, we're coming back. And we're coming back enrolled in the family tract. We may be the space-geekiest members of our families, but they're going up with us!


Jenni Bielicki said...

I'm so jealous! I grew up in Huntsville and my grandfather worked at NASA and helped with many missions, including the one that put Apollo 11 on the moon.  So last weekend when we lost Neil, I was particularly touched that you were able to be there, doing all that, in that moment.  And you can say I lived vicariously though you, Jay.  So glad you had such a blast!!! And thank you SO MUCH for sharing it!

JasonRoer said...

Dude! You went home? I'm still hanging in mission control waiting for Nnnnn to show up.

Anonymous said...

that looks like more fun than anyone one should have.