Ben goes to Space Camp - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Ben goes to Space Camp

February 26, 2007

 Huntsville, AL  --  What do you want to be when you grow up?  If you're of a certain age, Say you were a kid when the space race was running, You probably answered that question this way:  An astronaut.     

For the last 25-years, Kids have been able to get a little taste of what it's like to be an astronaut at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.  The folks there gave me that chance with my own visit to media Space Camp, for reporters from all over the country; a two-day whirlwind version of the space fun, that hundreds of thousands of Space Campers have enjoyed at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center over the last 25-years.

Splashing down in the Underwater Astronaut Trainer was one of the more realistic challenges. Astronauts really do train for space walks deep under water because it's similar to the near weightless environment of space. How'd I do?  More on that later.

A better question is how do the real space campers do. "They really get into it.  They love the missions, they love the knowledge that we provide them," said Josh Copeland, a Space Camp Instructor.

Another Space Camp Instructor Heather Sellers  says, "Space camp provides children an opportunity to build their self-esteem, to build leadership skills, to make new friends."

"By the time their parents come to pick them up, they see a different person.  I love what it does to their self-esteem," says Space Camp Instructor Marlon Hill.

The main purpose of space camp is to get young people fired up about math and science, to show them those subjects can be fun. One of the highlights is a simulated space shuttle mission.

On our flight, I was a mission specialist on board the shuttle.  That means I got to go on a space walk. Strapped into contraptions that made us feel as if we were floating in space, my partner and I had to fix a couple of problems on a mock Hubble Space Telescope. As with any real shuttle mission, it didn't go perfectly. But eventually we got the job done. And our shuttle landed safely. It's not all about math and science at Space Camp. 

Astronauts have to learn to work well together.  This climbing wall takes teamwork, communication, and maybe a little courage.  We'll see...

By working together, All the media space campers who tried the climbing wall made it to the top. Then had a little fun getting back down to earth. Sometimes it seemed our instructors, a group of self-described "space geeks", were having just as much fun as we were.

"Why do I like my job?  'Cause it's space man," said Josh.

"I get to play with kids all day.  That's a fun job," says Heather. But all that play is connected to the serious work the people in the real space program do. "It is in some way based on what the astronauts will receive, or it is based on information they astronauts would need to know," says Heather.

So we got to feel shuttle-like G-forces in the centrifuge. We got a taste of what it's like to walk on the moon. And we got turned every which way but loose just like the old Apollo astronauts might have if their capsule went into a tumble spin.

Oh yeah, and that underwater training?  See the guy in the red shorts and white T-shirt 24-feet down tossing around a 100-pound satellite like it's a beach ball?  Yeah, that's not me. See the guy in the red shorts and white T-shirt four feet down still trying to get used to his SCUBA gear when it's time to move on to the next challenge?  That's me.

Clearly I don't have the right stuff for NASA.  Thank God the real astronauts do.

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