I spent the Forth of July weekend at the best camp ever. There was no lake, or horses, or archery, or whatever they do at summer camp. The camp I went to had a Space Shuttle and Astronauts, and I even got to do science on the moon. I finally got to fulfill my childhood dream of going to Space Camp, and it was WAY better than horseback riding.
I had to fly to Huntsville, Alabama, the day before camp started, so of course I researched restaurants. It had been a long time since I’d had a po-boy and ettoufe, and I was on a mission. I wasn’t disappointed by the Yelp reviews for the Po-Boy Factory. So yumm!
The next day, I got to Camp a little early and did some exploring and shopping. The Shuttle in the photo is the Pathfinder, and was an actual Shuttle program test vehicle.
We got to do a Shuttle mission where we replicated Mission Control and Flight Crew duties. I got the be the “Guidance Systems & Navigational Controls Engineer” for the mission! We spent lots of time pretending we were astronauts, and we got to work in simulators that replicated the Shuttle, the ISS (International Space Station), and a lunar base.
The second day of camp was jam-packed with activities. We toured the Rocket Center with our private tour guide; a retired NASA engineer who’d been with the rocket program since its inception. He knew EVERYTHING.
Then we got to do the REALLY fun stuff, actual astronaut training! The first video shows me in the 1/6 Gravity Chair. It simulates the gravity felt on the moon. It was much harder to get going than you might think!
In this video, I’m in the MAT, Multi-Axis Trainer. This machine simulates a “tumble spin” that pilots can experience with loss of control of their vehicle. I was certain I would throw up. Megan, our team trainer, said she’s put over 700 people on this machine and no one has ever gotten sick. I’m happy to report that I didn’t feel nauseated at all! The chair keeps your tummy at the center of gravity, thereby avoiding nausea. It’s really true!
We built a model rocket and launched it (mine deployed perfectly, thank you very much). We also did a thermal shielding experiment that required me to put my faux engineering skills to the test. We learned TONS about NASA history and the legacy of our space program, I got to meet a real life space-walking astronaut, see an IMAX movie about the construction of the ISS, and learn about the next evolution of exploration with the Orion craft.
The other wonderful thing about my experience is that it brought a variety of people together who likely would not have interacted in their day-to-day lives. We came from all over North America, and we all shared a love of space and science that unified us. Ages ranged from early twenties to retirement, from married couples, to singles, to a mom and her daughter. All backgrounds were represented, too, from chemical engineers to artists. Our team had so much fun together and laughed constantly, so much so that we were made fun of for it at our graduation. I was so touched when a retired teacher from Maryland and a musician from Brooklyn busted out their instruments and improvised together. Camp was such a unifying experience, and I know each of us learned something about diversity during the course of the weekend.
In addition to the kids and adult camps, they have Family Camps, Educator camps for STEM teachers, and an Aviation Challenge for those who are more interested in learning how to fly an F-16 than a Shuttle Orbiter. My only advice if you’re going and you’re an adult, sleep at the Marriott next door. The beds and showers at the Camp facility were kid sized and not very comfy for us larger humans.
I would go back to Space Camp in a less than twelve parsecs, and I REALLY want to stress that this is such a fantastic opportunity for kids. If your child is interested in STEM studies, SEND THEM TO SPACE CAMP. I am not exaggerating when I say that it could be life-defining experience for them, the moment where they decide what they want to be when they grow up. It was that impactful and influential. The environment is so supportive of encouraging each child’s ability and potential. When you’re there, you feel as though you really could be the first person on Mars, or the engineer to solve the complex problem of artificial gravity. This is such a better educational value for your dollar than the typical summer camp, which is great, but will they get to meet an astronaut and ask them questions?
Or pilot the Shuttle?
Or make slime on the moon?
Ain’t gonna happen.
The only place you can do that is at Space Camp.
Have you been to Space Camp? Is science your boyfriend/girlfriend? Are you sad that the Hubble will crash into the Pacific in 3 years? (FTR, I’m crying in my Cornflakes about it.)
Tell me all about it below!