The moment it all clicked, really, was as we were getting ready to drop an egg off a balcony.
I thought I had some idea of what Space Camp was about. I grew up in Huntsville, in the shadow of Space Camp. I’d wanted to go since I was a kid, three decades and change ago. I’d watched Space Camp: The Movie more times than a person should.* I’d entered the scholarship competitions year after year. I’ve had the chance to do a few of the individual activities. I’ve even emcee’d Space Camp Hall of Fame.
But I’ve never been to Space Camp. I even literally had a t-shirt about it. “I’ve Never Been to Space Camp, But I Bet It Was Rad.”
There’s a scene in the Will Ferrell movie, Stranger than Fiction, where one character tells another, “You’re never too old to go to Space Camp.”
It’s true, and I’m Exhibit A. Well, OK, Exhibit A is probably cosmonaut Aleksandr Serebrov, who went at age 55, six years after his fourth trip into space. But I’m totally an exhibit.
At age 44, with no spaceflights but 15 or so minutes of zero-g under my belt, I went to Space Camp. Or, more accurately, Space Academy for Educators.
You're Never Too Old for Space Camp
Space Camp, after all, is not just about having a great time. It’s also about inspiring and equipping the next generations of explorers, and one of the way it does that is by inspiring and equipping the teachers who inspire and equip that next generation.
After all these years, Space Camp was everything I wanted Space Camp to be.
- I went on a space shuttle mission.
- I performed science experiments on a base on a Martian moon.
- I launched a rocket.
- I bounded around in lunar gravity.
- I rode a zip line in a simulated launch pad escape.
- I drove a tiny robot.
- I listened to an astronaut talk about the future of space.
- I met an engineer who worked rocket propulsion before NASA existed.
- I dropped an egg off a balcony.
Creating a Team
Well, technically, I didn’t drop an egg off a balcony. Someone else did. But I was involved in the preparation, which, as I mentioned, was when the whole Space Camp thing really clicked.
We’d done some cool things already by that point. We’d strapped in to a rig that simulated the gravity of the moon, one-sixth of what we experience here on Earth, and bounced across the room. We’d trained for our Mars mission, learning our assignments supporting the first astronauts on the Red Planet as they launched for home.
But we’d been a group of strangers doing really cool space activities together. Which, you know, is not a bad way to spend your time.
That night, though, as we prepared our eggstronaut’s lander and rover to keep it safe as it dropped one story and then rolled down a ramp,** my small group of Andrea, and Jennifer, and I became a team.
Take Space Camp to the Classroom
Over the coming days, the rest of my group, Team Harmony, became a team. And, ultimately, that experience was as powerful and meaningful and enjoyable as any experience we had in fake space. Which, trust me, is saying something.
It was a privilege for my first Space Camp experience to be at Space Academy for Educators, a program I’ve volunteered to support countless times in the past. The activities were interlaced with enrichment on how to take the excitement of Space Camp back into the classroom.
I had my own powerful moment along those lines leaving my laboratory on the Martian moon, where part of my job had been to conduct a science experiment. I realized afterwards that the experiment I did could have been a classroom activity in a middle school or high school, and middle or high school me would have been mildly interested in it back in the day. But I hadn’t been doing it a middle or high school, I’d been doing it on A MOON OF MARS, and I did that science like humanity’s future in space depended on it. Lesson learned.
Safety at Space Academy for Educators
When I’d registered for Camp originally back in February, I had no clue what 2020 was to hold – no clue that I would ultimately end up attending Space Camp in the days of coronavirus. The staff did an incredible job reacting to an unimaginable circumstance, providing an experience designed to keep us safe during a pandemic while still being as enjoyable and enriching as any prior camp. I was impressed.
On the last full day, I found myself where I’d long dreamed of being – in the cockpit of the space shuttle, a switch-for-switch replica of what the crew flew on the first shuttle launch, tasked with piloting the orbiter from Earth’s surface to the International Space Station.
My crewmate on the orbiter had a story with beats similar to my own. She’d watched Space Camp: The Movie back when it first came out, and wanted to go, but it was a dream too big back then. And now, decades after the movie came out, here we both were, about to fly the space shuttle.
We’d made it.
You’re never too old for Space Camp.
Information about booking your own Space Camp experience, including Adult Space Academy and Space Academy for Educators can be found at SpaceCamp.com.
*Number of times a person should watch it: Twice. No more, no less.
**That egg survived intact. Our second egg, for the activity where we built a heat shield to protect an egg from a blowtorch, came through the experience neither intact nor even edible.