Most of us will only ever dream of going to space — floating in zero gravity, eating strange space foods and seeing the world from new heights.
As I sit here listening to David Bowie’s “Life on Mars,” I think we all wonder at some point or another what it would be like to escape the disillusionment and challenges of daily life and live on another planet. Who knows? Maybe one day, humanity will have those answers.
For now, we must embrace the fog of life on Earth. Whether we chase the astronaut dream or choose a different path in life, one Alabama camp reminds us that we are never too young (or too old) to live out those fantasies, and we can do it all from the comfort of solid ground.
I chose to become a writer rather than pursue a STEM career, but I’ve always had a soft spot for science and astronomy. As a Huntsville native, I grew up minutes from Redstone Arsenal, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center (USSRC), NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and the Von Braun Civic Center, aptly named after the “father of rocket science” himself: Wernher von Braun.
They don’t call Huntsville “Rocket City” for nothing. But the highlight of my space-obsessed youth was going to Space Camp: the world’s first and only cosmic retreat of its kind. You’d think I might be a little desensitized to the excitement of space, but on the contrary; I couldn’t wait to spend a whole week learning about it outside the classroom. I was privileged to attend the camp with my whole fifth-grade class in March 2006 — the grand finale of our unit on space.
My science teacher, Mrs. Martin, worked hard leading up to Space Camp week, teaching us everything from common acronyms to atmospheric pressure to the evolution of space suits.
Our Space Camp experience wasn’t an overnight one (although that is an option for visiting campers, or locals, who want the “full experience”), but the promise of spending each day at the Space and Rocket Center still made getting up for school a lot easier.
On the first day, we were divided into groups and met our camp counselor. Each team was named after a star; mine was “Arcturus,” a red giant in the Northern Hemisphere and the brightest star in the Boötes (herdsman) constellation. Kenyetta, a kind and supportive counselor, was the leader of Arcturus and made sure we were having fun each day.
Over the next few days, counselors and instructors showed us around the USSRC. We got to explore the exhibits, watch an educational film in the IMAX theatre, meet industry professionals and participate in plenty of hands-on activities.
But as a group of 10-to-11-year-olds, we couldn’t wait for the chance to try out the five degrees of freedom motion simulator, 1/6th gravity chair and multi-axis trainer (MAT).
The three chairs allowed us to feel what an astronaut might feel moving around in space, walking on the moon or going through a “tumble spin.”
According to Space Camp instructors, the latter actually happened to Neil Armstrong and David Scott aboard the Gemini 8 — but because of their training, they were able to regain control and complete the mission. What a relief!
We were also eager for the rides in and around the USSRC: the HyperShip simulator, G-Force Accelerator and Space Shot (now called the Moon Shot), to name a few.
Our week of educational fun culminated in a mock space mission. We all had different roles to play, from astronauts to mission control to scientists aboard the International Space Station. It was an entertaining way to put our knowledge to the test, practice problem solving and build teamwork in the process.
After a big “mission accomplished,” we celebrated in a Space Camp graduation ceremony. I still have my certificate.
Whether you want to be the next Neil Armstrong or just have a casual curiosity about space, Space Camp is a valuable source of information, interaction and inspiration.
I may not be orbiting Earth in the ISS or building rockets, but Space Camp did teach me one thing I’ve carried with me: It doesn’t matter where I’m from or what the obstacles may be; I’m smart, I’m capable and I can do great things!
And the same is true for all of us. I had a blast experiencing the wonders of space with my peers, but it’s also a fantastic opportunity for individual or small-group campers to meet and connect with other eager learners from across the globe, as far as Australia and China.
And that opportunity isn’t limited to young children. There are programs for teens, adults, families and teachers. Other camps under the Space Camp umbrella — such as Space Academy, the Aviation Challenge, Space Camp Robotics and U.S. Cyber Camp — also cater to different interests.
Scholarships are available for eligible children 9 to 18 years old. As Alabama residents, we can thank our lucky stars that we live so close to an international hotspot for space education and exploration that “inspires the next generation of dreamers and doers!”
Most camps are full for this summer, but to find out more about Space Camp or keep tabs on registration dates for 2023, visit www.spacecamp.com or follow on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.