Another Out of this World Adventure

Katy did her third and last round at Space Camp last week. There are three levels for the space program and she’s done them all. They also offer Aviation Challenge, Robotics Camp and Cyber Camp (brand new, the kids build a computer) but those aren’t really her thing. She did Space Camp in 2012, the summer after fourth grade, Space Academy two summers later and then this year was Advanced Space Academy.

The drive from Atlanta to Huntsville is really pretty. You go through Lookout Mountain, over the Tennessee River and can see the foothills of the Appalachians in the distance. Lots and lots of trees. We drove down Juliette Low Highway and past Camp Juliette Low where Katy has spent four of the last five summers.

The older you get the earlier check-in is and Katy’s was at 10:30 a.m. We decided to stay at the Marriott on the U.S. Space and Rocket Center campus the night before as it’s a four-hour drive. We had a pretty nice view from our hotel room. It would have nicer if we’d been a little higher than the second floor but we could see the rockets all lit up.

The building that looks like horizontal piping is Habitat 1, one of the “habs” the trainees stay in.

I was a little confused because we got an email with check-in for all of the programs and it said the first official meal is dinner so feed your trainee lunch before check-in. I emailed the director to ask how she was supposed to eat lunch before 10:30. She suggested the Mars Grill on the property sometime before orientation at noon. They have “fried Martians (three pieces, tastes like chicken)”. So we got in line just before 10:30, had her checked in and in her room in about 20 minutes. We got her wrist band and found out she was on Team Acidalia. If you don’t know (we didn’t) that’s a crater on Mars. They must try not to recycle team names too often as there were some really obscure names this year.

She was in Hab 1 this time, which is smaller rooms with about six people. Previously she was in Hab 2, which was really big rooms with lots of people. We wandered around the rocket park (which is mostly close for refurbishing in preparation for the 50th anniversary of the moon landing next year) then went for an early lunch.

Katy in her room with one of her roommates and her mom.
Each camper gets a locker and they are pretty big.

We dropped her at her orientation at noon and headed out. There’s an orientation for parents but we decided to skip it. We skipped it last time, too, it doesn’t change. I found today that after orientation all the advanced campers were taken to the cafeteria for lunch. I’m sure no one was hungry.

So we went home and Katy went on to have fun. You can buy a photo package and in the past they’ve just had the trainers and other employees take photos and they were all compiled on a CD that your child received at graduation. It had snapshots from everything except graduation. This year they hired a professional company to take the photos and put them online and it’s been a hot mess. Not nearly as many photos (and I was lucky, some parents only got two or three) and they aren’t all showing up for everyone. They took a photo of every child at graduation and they aren’t up yet. But we got a few.

Multi-axis trainer

This is the multi-axis trainer that spins you around. You won’t get sick as it doesn’t spin you more than twice in the same direction so your equilibrium doesn’t get off but it will empty your pockets. They have a small one and a large one. You have to be 5’3″ to ride the big one and Katy was the only one on her team not tall enough for it.

This is the Mars mission. It’s the longest at three hours, as it simulates three years. She’s going over a book of medical anomalies. Katy said someone broke their leg in the first five minutes.

This is mission control. Katy was the missions operations director. She says that’s like cap comm (capsule communications) except a different name.

For Space Camp and Space Academy, each trainee is given a rocket kit to build and launch. The first year, Katy’s launched about two inches and then caught on fire (she still has it), the second year it launched, landed in the street and was run over. We went after graduation and found it. In Advanced Academy they divide into small groups and build a rocket from loose parts. Katy’s team wrote “sketchy but doable” on the three fins. It launched just fine but the parachute didn’t deploy. Of four rockets, one did what it was supposed to. Katy’s team’s rocket the parachute didn’t work, another caught fire and the third shot backward over their heads (the kids are behind a blast screen) and landed in the off-property RV park. Camping there is probably slightly risky.

At least it didn’t catch fire

The “Sketchy But Doable” launches.

They also did a Mars rover activity. Katy said the instructions didn’t make sense and were no help. I told her that sounds like the government. Basically they build a robot and put it through an obstacle course. Luckily these kids are smart. They didn’t have all the smaller pieces and had to improvise but Katy said “somehow” they got it together.

Two really neat things they do in advanced academy are the flight simulators that belong to Aviation Challenge and a SCUBA activity in the Underwater Astronaut Trainer. There aren’t any photos of the flight simulators but Katy said she crashed her plane into the ocean. Her team didn’t do the
SCUBA activity. They got their bathing suits and went down to the pool and were told there was something wrong with  the pump. Every team for the rest of week got to do it but they were never rescheduled. We were all really disappointed with that. That’s one of the major challenges. Katy isn’t just real comfortable in the water so we paid for a SCUBA class for her last month to try it out.

Friday and graduation came way too fast. Usually they do individual graduations for each program. This year they did Space Academy and Advanced Space Academy together. They ran 350 kids through like an assembly line. In the past the trainer for each team gave a little two minute talk on what they learned and maybe something special that happened. Each trainee with a flight suit got their name badge turned over (it was upside-down all week long) and each team was able to stand together on the stage. This was go, go, go. Robert “Hoot” Gibson was the astronaut for the week. The person introducing him said he had been described as “the man who has flown every plane ever made”. Four years ago we heard him speak and he said he hates that, he hadn’t even flown every plane ever made when the article came out. So that was kind of a funny. We were also told the trainees learned a lot about Gus Grissom. After his Mercury capsule sunk he named his Gemini Capsule Molly Brown after the movie “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”. NASA didn’t like that and told him to pick something else. He chose Titanic. They liked that even less and agreed to go with Molly Brown. Then they quit letting astronauts name the capsules entirely.

Katy shaking hands with Hoot Gibson. Zach was Katy’s day trainer.

They do some awards at graduation as well, but Katy’s team didn’t win one. In the past her teams have won Best Mission Patch and Commander’s Cup.

Each trainee gets a certificate and wings and you can buy a mission patch with each team member’s name on it.

After graduation we had tickets for the astronaut lunch, which started at noon. Well, graduation was supposed to start at 11 and ideally be over in time. They started 10 minutes late, ran more than an hour (350 kids, remember) and by the time it was over, we found Katy and made it to lunch, Gibson was pretty much finished with his speech. We had heard him before but that was still an expensive activity to miss most of it. Oh, well.

Afterward, we wandered around the park and museums some more. With campers leaving, the weekend family campers arriving and the general Friday tourists, it was busy. That weekend there was going to be an American-Girl themed camp for younger girls (this year’s Girl of the Year wants to be an astronaut) so there were little girls walking around with their dolls. I saw a family wearing matching t-shirts that said “Grandma Janie’s Road Trip 2018”. Sort of a cross-country family reunion, I guess. Sounds fun.

I got a few photos of some trainee-only areas.

The mock-up space station
Mission control

There was an exhibit showcasing math in daily life going on and I wanted to see that. They had a display showing how math is used in music and I thought it looked pretty neat.

I love what they name some of the different areas.

Then it was time to head home and try to miss Atlanta’s Friday rush-hour traffic.

The end of Hab 1, home for the week.





3 thoughts on “Another Out of this World Adventure

  1. I love this! My daughter was at Aviation Challenge Mach II last week, and she and I both enjoyed reading this report. It’s so interesting to see what else was going on at Space Camp while my daughter was there!

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