After being delayed in Kansas for 5 days, I was just grateful to have made my flight from Phoenix to Atlanta. But when I saw 5 very familiar and friendly STOY faces at the gate for the flight from Atlanta to Huntsville, I almost cried tears of joy. I allowed myself to realize that I was in for the week of a lifetime as a total space geek. But the best part was landing in Huntsville and seeing school-age Space Campers in flight suits. I had to ask a few of them how their week went. One pre-teen boy told me, “This was the awesomest week of my life!” The excitement built even more!
We got divided into teams for missions, classes, and challenges. I was put in Team Destiny with some of my closet STOY friends and some new friends from around the country and world. We designed our mission patch and had a shuttle hardware briefing for an upcoming mission.
That evening we participated in the International Space Camp opening ceremony with Astronaut Dr. Don Thomas (3 missions on Columbia and 1 on Discovery). He spoke of his dream of being an astronaut since he was a small boy, ever since his school had all the kids watch the moon landing.
We participated in the Parade of Nations, revealing our costumes we’d kept hidden from each other for weeks. We were each representing our state or country.
We ate dinner under the Saturn V rocket.
It was time for Team Destiny’s shuttle mission. I was elected to be Pilot with my buddy Steve, Indiana STOY, as Commander. “Seeing” space, piloting a shuttle, and successfully completing a mission was a childhood dream come true. But feeling so responsible for my team and knowing we were being graded made the experience a bit stressful. There were so many buttons to push so quickly! It was incredible!
The DuMidi Southern ladies group hosted a delicious dinner under the Saturn V rocket on the 45 anniversary of the moon landing. There was even a grits bar! But the best part was eating dinner with people who had worked on the Saturn V rocket and the Apollo missions. I sat by a physicist and radar engineer and we had a great physics discussion.
Our day began with a rocketry workshop. I built a red, white and blue tie dye rocket – the Patriotic Hippy.
We toured the Rocket Park and learned tons of interesting history with the rockets right in front of us. Then we moved on to an aviation and water survival challenge. The zipline simulated a parachute escape out of an aircraft. There was also a simulated helicopter crash and basket rescue. We made it really fun and repeated the challenge over and over again with new ailments each time – “This time when you hit the water, your water breaks and you go into labor!” “You break both legs in the crash!” “This time you hit your head and think you’re Super Man!”
Team Destiny’s next mission took place on the moon. We had to communicate between moon bases and an orbiter while changing astronaut teams and assessing asteroid damage on one of the bases. This time, I was CAPCOM (Capsule Communications) – responsible for relaying all information between the orbiter and flight deck.
Next was an Ablative Shielding challenge where we had to design a shield to keep our “eggstranaut” cool for 3 minutes of blow torch torture. Team Unscrambled chose Eggstranaut Bart Simpson. Our shield held for the full 3 minutes and Bart was cool to the touch. We won!
We got to launch our rockets, then head over to Area 51 for low ropes team building.
We participated in a lunar mission challenge to design and build a lunar lander and rover that could survive a drop and travel. Ours was beautiful and had a very effective parachute, but we did not win.
Our morning began with ECLSS (Environment Control and Life Support Services) training. We created our own water purification systems to recycle…well, in our case it was mostly lemon juice (I hope).
Then on to the astronaut simulators, thankfully before lunch.
Our guest speaker was Ed Buckbee (author of The Real Space Cowboys) who told some priceless stories about our original astronauts. In the evening we had the National Teacher of the Year reception with Homer Hickam, author of many books including Rocket Boys, which the movie October Sky was based upon and which will be a Broadway musical soon. He was a great speaker and read aloud from his book.
Before I knew it, it was graduation day. Astronaut Bob Springer was our Master of Ceremonies. We were each given a 30,000 mile coin by the army at Redstone Arsenal. We were given our wings and a certificate. I was so proud of my mate, Kate of Australia, for winning the Space Camp Ambassador award. She earned it with her spirit and enthusiasm.
Packing was intense due to the massive amount of classroom materials and NASA goodies I was trying to squeeze into my bags. Our goodbye party was emotional. Our close-knit group of STOYS never want to leave each other. And now we had to goodbye to our new international and American friends, too.
Friday morning came way too early, but I again got to have friends at the airport in Huntsville and Atlanta. Although I came home to Phoenix to 114 degrees and monsoon season, it was great to be back with my loved ones, returned safely from my time in space. I’m thinking Family Space Camp for our next vacation!