UPDATED 13 November, 2018
"The years forever fashion new dreams when old ones go. God pity a one-dream man."
I recently changed the layout of this site to show the newest content first.
This page is dedicated to all those who have attended Space Camp, and especially to those who have dreamed of going but have yet to make it.
I enjoyed it, but there were some issues with all this.
We had numerous large gaps between events, because the trainers weren't ready and we were such a small group we completed stuff much faster than most groups do. We could have ended early many nights but instead had to hang around the museum area waiting for the next event.
I just feel like each year I've gone, it's gotten more Spartan.
The full day before, I went to various places around Huntsville (including a small but excellent veterans museum which I strongly recommend if you're into that). Most of all, I was trying to get shots of a train passing in front of the Saturn V. Other people in years past had gotten great shots but those locations are now closed off to trees and fences.
When I checked in, my pal Spence from Hoot Camp 2018 was on the small (8 guy) team. Spence is a good guy, so I was glad of that. The rest of the team was small but all were decent guys. We had two guys from Ireland and a guy from Thailand (who turned out to be an airliner pilot but didn't talk much).
We didn't do a lot of things we normally would. No mission patch (Darn it), no tour as three out of eight of us weren't US citizens, and some other things just never happened.
I was Flight Director for the LDM (only three hours) but got the CDR slot for a one-hour in Enterprise early in the week. My landing was just fine, especially with Spence in the PLT position.
Did the usual Area 51 courses including the zip line, AC for the flight sims and did the dive tank. I didn't do the dive tank nor the centrifuge as my sinuses were killing me at the time.
The rocket launch with egg payload went comically. The nosecone design protected the egg but the chute never opened. It was the first time an egg survived on a rocket I helped to build there!
We did a rover challenge that was funny, using craft sticks, cardboard and such...
There was a module attached to the back of the Endeavour in the Astrotech building I'd never seen before. They told us it'd been a trainer for a real one that never got sent to the ISS.
Graduation was anti-climactic. They didn't even pin our wings on. It made us a little aggravated as they'd told us it would be at 9AM but moved it back 2 hours. This meant that two of the guys on our team wouldn't be there as they'd made plans to leave before that. We used the same seats that a massive group of kids had just gone through, so it felt odd to be in a large area of open seats at the Davidson Center:
My pal Steve came out for the graduation, though. Always great to see him!
After graduation, here I am with John, Pawdrig (both from Ireland) and my old pal Steve after lunch at the Marriott
But all in all, a great week to be sure!
I attended the week-long Advanced Adult Space Camp, with astronauts Bob Springer and "Hoot" Gibson! Bob was around off-and-on, but Hoot was around pretty much all the time.
As this was a week long event, there were simply too many things to report on. This time, I'm only going to hit the highlights. As I recall stuff, I'll probably edit this portion to include the ones I don't mind sharing.
To start with, I arrived the evening before camp, after a long drive from Chattanooga (where I rode a passenger train pulled by steam, another hobby of mine). I met up with my good friend John "PK" Brock. I hadn't seen him since Team Discovery in 2014. I also met Aimee, who was on the same team then and is now a trainer at Camp.
When I pulled up to the Center the next morning, I re-created the first scene in the 1986, "Spacecamp" movie showing the Space Camp facility, complete with Eric Clapton blaring from my MP3 player.
When we got to Camp and introduced ourselves to one another, we found there was only one team this time. No competition!
Oh well, that meant we had Hoot all to ourselves. He was available most of the time, and of course we took advantage of that by asking him countless questions (John and I especially, as we knew a bit about his background already). He treated us like equals, something I was truly impressed with. Now I know for sure why NASA made him their chief astronaut for several years!
Bob Springer made himself available when he could. A real class act!
The Steely-Eyed-Missile Men ride again... sort of. Hoot indulged John and me in a classic "Right Stuff" style pose in front of Pathfinder... John and I both wished our pal Steve from 2014 could have been there with us, of course.
Amazingly, we encountered three astronauts one afternoon, including General Robert Stewart, the first Army astronaut! I'd always wanted to meet him and had no idea he lived nearby.
Later, I got a PLT slot on the Enterprise simulator (no Orion capsule stuff this time). Though my CDR wasn't exactly the greatest stick-and-rudder person who ever lived, she did a valiant job trying to keep the HUD lined up but eventually steered beyond it's tracking. By then, neither of us had a clue where we were (and CAPCOM didn't help). We pancaked into the swamps about a mile from runway 33 at Kennedy. She was later given the call-sign, "Swamp Fox" for that. Even though she seemed to beat herself up over it for a while, she took it in stride. She eventually won the "Right Stuff Award," which I wholly agreed with.
Model rockets... We did the "launch an egg" thing again, and hilarity ensued. Our rocket decided to go into "RPG Mode". It went across the field, tearing itself apart on impact. the egg didn't fare well. Now I'm sure I'll be called before the International Court for weaponizing rockets with biological weapons!
Here's John loading the weapon in place, praying it didn't come apart on the pad.
Each night, Hoot would hold court at "The Library," which is what we called the bar at the Marriott next to Space Camp (if the bar has a real name, I have no idea what it is).
Here we see Hoot and John laughing at something that was just said. I think this was the evening when the 6' 4" blonde teacher from England came strolling in and wound up sitting next to me (I was a good boy, talking about my loving wife back home, something that I think baffled some of the others there that night). Note the shirt Hoot is wearing, it was worn on one of his shuttle missions.
The Redstone/Marshall tour went well. We even got to hit the NASA employee store! We all bought a lot of stuff. Even Hoot plunked down a sizeable chunk of change! Later, he gave us all NASA beer can koozies, as most of us were seen drinking with him after-hours in the bar.
Here I am, sitting in the ISS Payload Control room area...
This is some (but not all) of the swag I got. I also bought a couple of shirts and a mitt full of pens...
At Aviation Challenge, Hoot briefed us before we mounted the Mach 3 F-18 sims. I'd never used them before and we had a blast. Yes, I gave better than I got. I got into 2 flat spins, but managed to smoke 5 of my team by shooting them down. I'm glad Hoot or Bob didn't hop into a cockpit as they'd have made colanders out of the rest of our planes!
Snoopy, Me and Swamp Fox in SCUBA prep. This is pretty much as far as I got due to some pretty bad sinus issues...
My only problem was I had bad sinus problems (which prevented me from SCUBA diving the day before) and I felt terrible after being spun in the centrifuge. I'd done it plenty of times before with no problems, but I felt awful the rest of the day. I bowed out on the climbing wall, went to bed really early and slept like a rock.
I felt fine the next day.
Here's Hoot giving us a briefing on ACM at Aviation Challenge, and me recovering from a flat spin in a MACH3 F-18 sim.
This photo below shows a typical morning between breakfast and our first activity of the day. Hoot always took meals (often taking our trays away, something I think I felt was beneath him but clearly showed the gentleman he is and how he seemed to regard us) with us and was very receptive to questions. Where he got his stamina after closing out the bar at the Marriott almost every night, I'll never know. I couldn't keep up with him and he's got over 20 years on me!
Then, the Long Duration Mission on the next to last day...
Here's where I'm going to vent. You were warned.
The trainers told us to figure out among ourselves who got what position. I said I wanted CDR for the orbiter but only if nobody else wanted it. Well, we had a guy who'd had the CDR slot on the mission before that and he felt that entitled him to do it again. I'd missed out on cockpit time on the LDM several times and by God, I didn't want to give that up to the guy who'd just done the exact same thing the day before. My pal John pointed out I hadn't had a shot at the stick and the other guy just had (and a few of my team agreed with John), but there was a lot of staring at the floor as nobody wanted to tell him to can it. It made everyone very uncomfortable. I will freely admit that I didn't want to back down to this guy as he'd just done it. I even agreed to flipping for it, but one of the trainers suggested we swap off being CDR (I'd get the descent portion). Later, the other guy admitted he went through all that for no reason other than he didn't want to be in mission control. I was less than impressed.
Once we went through some stick time for practice the day before, he admitted he was okay with me as CDR the whole time, (I was thinking sarcastically, "Wow, that's mighty magnanimous of you..." but didn't say it) just so he didn't have to spend 12+ hours in Mission Control. This guy had been to Space Camp 10 times and one of the trainers told me later he'd recalled this guy doing the exact same thing to another team. By then, I really was unimpressed. I overheard him in the men's room the night before the actual mission, griping to someone that he was saddled with "another new guy" in the cockpit. My opinion kept lowering by the minute.
As I waited for my PLT to catch up with the switches, the trainers halted the countdown, saying we lost an engine. So, we all had to walk out to a real SSME under Pathfinder, remove the paper sign taped to it, and "Carry" it to the orbiter. The PLT isn't in the photo. I won't go into why.
So, here I am waiting for my right-seater to catch up again. he did okay (better than I had my first time doing that), but for a guy who claimed to know everything and had apparently done this almost a dozen times, I was impressed even less. I'm quite sure I made a much better PLT for Swamp Fox on our ill-fated 1-hour mission.
SO, the mission went okay for the most part (though MOCR gave us bad burn data and we went through the ISS). MOCR folks were forced to attend a fake 'funeral' after causing us to destroy the orbiter. Frankly, I didn't find it very funny as I've been to military funerals but I went along with it (I noticed Hoot and Bob were nowhere to be seen, maybe for the same reasons). It was a little offensive to me, but I didn't want to say anything at the time.
When it came time for a EVA (spacewalk) I told the PLT that this was the price of admission. I didn't want to sweat like a pig in one of those suits as I'd done in 2014.
We hung out in the ISS and trainers simply hit us with a comical level of errors, anomalies and so forth that went deep into ridiculous territory. I'd never done a LDM before and frankly, it got silly after a while. A married couple on our team was fed up with it by the end. I can't say I blamed them.
But what really put a damper on an otherwise great week was my landing. One of our trainers hit us with high-level turbulence. I didn't even know they could program that into the sims. My PLT didn't believe I was experiencing this, even though the trainer (call-sign, "Soap") admitted over the radio that he'd hit us with it.
I think I was doing a good job staying on course and had the field in sight. At that point, the pilot has but ONE job; to get the gear down.
Guess what happened?
My "experienced" PLT who previously complained that he was 'stuck' with a first-timer, panicked. I was yelling for him to push the center green button, while pulling back on the stick, trying to salvage the landing by keeping the bottom of the orbiter clear before the gear locked. He never even hit the button. Instead, he hit the drag chute button. Twice.
Just two buttons. He couldn't even get that right. I pancaked at the end of runway 33 at KSC. I made the landing in the right place, but not in the right configuration.
With Hoot Gibson watching, no less.
I was livid.
I still am.
That said, I got a standing ovation as we exited the training floor, led my Hoot. I wasn't sure at the time if it was meant to be ironic, but now I know it was heartfelt.
Much later, John told me everyone in MOCR (including Hoot) was amazed at the landing, as they had no clue what was happening that would cause us to pop a chute twice but not put the gear down. He said that Hoot was impressed with the landing attempt, which I'll have to take his word for that. I didn't discuss the landing with anyone afterward but several of my team were pretty ticked when they realized that my PLT botched the entire thing, considering his antics the day before.
I know I would have greased that landing in spite of what the trainers threw at me, if only my PLT could have hit that one button.
Hoot texted me this shot of where we wound up at the end of the mission.
That night, my PLT made a comment that pretty much proved what I'd suspected at the time; he'd screwed up the entire mission on purpose. If he didn't have other issues which I won't go into here, I may very well have drug him out back of the HAB and given him an attitude adjustment he'd never have forgotten. When John found out about this, he was probably even more angry than I was. His rant was epic, and I totally understood why.
I made a point to tell this to the trainers the next morning only because I did NOT want my PLT winning the Right Stuff award (again, this guy had other issues and the award is sometimes given for people with life problems, let's just say). In fact, John and I agreed that if that guy won it after all that, we were each just going to walk away from graduation after tossing our wings on the ground.
Beats me why, but I had to include this shot of my bag in the CDR's drawer on the mid deck. It has patches for every NASA facility I've ever been to and every mission I've seen the launch (or stack on the pad) for.
At the Marriott that night (no way was I going to miss having a beer with Hoot this one final time), I finally got a call-sign, due to how little runway I used during the sabotaged landing attempt. Mike on our team came up with it, but Hoot agreed it was fitting:
Yep, that's my call-sign, now. It only took 4 runs at Space Camp to finally get one. When Hoot Gibson signs off on it, you pretty much have to go with it. And considering that everyone around knew I didn't screw up the landing gear as that's the PLT's job, I was just fine with it.
I posed for some photos with me, John, Aimee (all from the 2014 team) and Mel, our trainer from then who is now in HR there, but haven yet to see them. It was great to see Mel again, she's such an amazing person!
The final morning at the HAB. Always a sad time, but after a week, I was actually looking forward to a good hotel room that night (after a very long drive to Mobile).
Getting my wings from Hoot (this photo thanks to my pal Steve who showed up for the graduation). My pal "PK" John is to my left. Note that John is also wearing a 2014 Team Discovery patch, on the same right sleeve that I'm wearing mine. This was the Space Camp patch I designed that I liked the most.
Graduation was abbreviated compared to times past. There was no other team, so there was no competition with anyone else. I would have liked to have gone 4-0 in mission patch design, but oh well. I didn't shake hands with the PLT from the LDM. I didn't even want to look him in the eye. He didn't even show up in a flight suit like the rest of us. Beats me if it was because he knew a few of us weren't happy with him or this was final childish act in his part.
The patches I got from Camp. Upper left is the pre-made mission patch that a few of us got. The right one is the outstanding team patch. No award was made for our mission patch. The lower is one I bought at the MSFC gift shop...
And here's the mission patch I drew. I knocked this out after I realized I wouldn't be able to dive in the SCUBA tank without feeling like my head was going to implode. I think the team liked it. I'm working on a digital version of it among my other projects, but as there was no overall demand for patches to be made, I'm not sure if I'll make any patches this time, like I had from all my previous Space Camp team patch designs.
Here we have the (hopefully just the first) Steely-Eyed Missile Men Tour (SEMM-1). This was not only another run at Space Camp, but a combined trip to Kennedy Space Center (KSC) as well that lasted over a week. The crew of SEMM-1; Puckett, Brock and Bishop, had an amazing trip.
So much happened, I don't know where to start...
Kennedy Space Center:
Various sights around KSC, including the capsule from Apollo 14
We even saw the Orion EFT-1 test mission being readied for it's December launch!
John, Steve and I met at the Orlando airport and headed to the coast in a rental van (which we refered to as 'The CSM') for 3 solid days of sightseeing. John cracked me up when he took a look at me and said, "You're taller than I imagined," which is something I get often from people who've only seen photos of me online. We'd each bought annual passes online and I had a devil of a time getting mine squared away once I got there. In the end it worked out okay and we got some cool lanyard IDs to get in and out of the place (and it was good practice for wearing lanyards once we got to Hunstville). Kennedy Space Center was amazing and that new Atlantis pavilion takes your breath away. They have the orbiter rotated to a degree that you can see every inch of it. A walkway takes you all the way around and you can get underneath it as well. We got to see the launch center (I've stood right at the launch director's chair) and the runway the orbiters landed at, among other tough-to-see sights that aren't on the normal bus tour. We got to both pads at 39A and 39B, right up to their outer fences and got to the Saturn V building twice. They have a complete Saturn V in there as well as the capsule from Apollo 14 and Al Shepard's EVA suit he walked on the Moon in, on the same mission. There were an awful lot of German tourists running around the place, and I think it surprised a few of them to hear an obvious American replying in German to them (I'd never encountered any Germans who couldn't speak English when I was actually in Germany, but plenty who didn't understand English last week). I had a couple of short conversations with them, which was nice to know I hadn't totally lost the ability to understand the language. It came in handy when overhearing what they were saying, several of them assumed nobody would understand them and they said some very interesting things, let's just say. We also got to meet astronaut Robert Crouch (STS-83 and STS 94) and got signed photos from his missions (I'd downloaded the photos from the NASA site and printed them myself before I'd left home). He was a very nice guy, like most astronauts are in such cases.
Thanks again, Dr Crouch! Note the lanyards we're wearing and our NASA shirts which were the uniform for this portion of the trip
Our hotel was very close to the center, at the end of each evening at the Center, we'd be back at the hotel so fast it seemed like we were next door. There was also a Sonny's BBQ nearby which really hit the spot as I hadn't eaten at one in a very long time (I used to love going there when I was living in Tallahassee).
John took a later flight directly to Huntsville, but Steve and I caught a very early flight to Nashville. We went to his place, picked up his truck, then drove on down to Huntsville. We passed right by the Jack Daniels distillery on the way, but I'd been there the previous year so it wasn't a crushing blow to not stop in.
When Steve and I got to Huntsville (John didn't show up until much later that afternoon), we did the Redstone NASA tour which is always pretty cool. Got to see the ISS mission control again, as well as a lab I'd never seen before.
ISS Mission Control at Redstone and the famous HAB1 at Space Camp!
The next morning, we hooked up with John. We walked around the center and looked over the place. By 11, we were checked in and waiting for camp to start. There were family and school groups all over the place but our session seemed to be alone by the second day. Once things got rolling, we found there were 4 teams of 12 people each this year. The staff grouped similar people together, so our team was filled with nothing but people who'd been there before. That worked out great. We had Mel, our 20-something trainer from Australia (who was young enough to be the daughter of some of us and the granddaughter of one guy) and a doctor from Japan. It was the first time I'd been on a team there with foreign nationals and the first time in a long while I'd heard an Aussie accent. We had one guy who was in his early 70s, the rest were from their 20s to 50s. Mel kept up our spirits by yelling out, "G'day, Discovery!" to which we replied at the top of our lungs, "G'DAY, MEL!" It was a running gag for the entire weekend, one we'll never forget. She also referred to us often as, "Disco."
In true camp fashion, we hit the ground running. We did a "get to know you" session and right away, I developed a good feeling about the team I was in. It seemed like everyone was on the same page from the start. At that time, I didn't realize that they'd placed all us camp alumni on the same team intentionally, nor that we were almost all the alumni going through the camp that week.
To be honest, I had been worried that my third trip to SC would make me jaded and cause me to have a 'ho hum' attittude, especially after the less-than-perfect experience I'd had the previous year. As it turned out, 2014 would be the best SC experience I've had so far as I was in a great team, with a perfect trainer and very good schedule. Not even several storms rolling through the area the entire time could dampen Team Discovery's spirit!
Practicing for the Alpha Mission (Photo by Danielle)
First prime crew readies for the Alpha mission in the Discovery simulator (the one they used in the 1986 movie). Note the Space Barbie on Danielle's flight suit to the right. More on that later.
The SEMM-1 crew (Me, John and Steve)posing before the Alpha mission (Photo by 'PK'). It's hard to tell, but we're all wearing the same grey "Atlantis" t-shirts we bought in the gift shop at KSC the final day we were there, and wore them when walking into the HAB the first day of Camp. God knows what everyone else thought when they saw that.
Alpha mission, being where I belong, in the front office of the orbiter!
The missions started right away. I wound up in the orbiter in the pilot's seat for the first hour-long mission, using the very same motion cockpit simulator they used in the 1986 movie, "Spacecamp." I was told this would be removed soon. John was the commander (he even offered to swap seats but I declined our of fairness) and I was later commended on how fast I was on the switches. Looking back, I missed a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make some sort of crack about entering 'The Red Zone,' (watch the 1986 movie if you don't get that) but didn't think of it at the time. The mission was pure nominal and John greased the landing at Kennedy (ironically the same runway we'd seen in person less than 48 hours before). Our Mission Specialists were Cassandra and Danielle. Danielle cracked us up by carrying around a Space Barbie the entire time. She had to include the doll in any photos of her, and took plenty of shots of Barbie doing Space Camp activities. She even got to talking for Barbie in Mission Control once. We thought it was great and I later posed Barbie for her a few times in some photos. I'd done the same thing the previous year with Earl, a little stuff squirrel puppet my wife and I take with us on trips. I'd forgotten to bring Earl along, and Barbie missed out by not meeting him. Later, crewmate Aimee bought a stuffed space pooch named Laika from the Camp gift shop. Danielle found a Space Camp Barbie there as well, so by the end of camp, we had three team mascots!
Listening to Hoot. I'm far right, 4th row up, with a blue cap on.
After we landed the orbiter Discovery, we had a lecture from former NASA chief astronaut Robert "Hoot" Gibson, followed by a screening of the IMAX movie, "The dream is alive," which has Hoot in it. We also got to talk with Hoot and get photos with him. A real class act, that man. We all loved that he took time to talk with us. I even got him to autograph my NASA visitor center passport which all three of us SEMM-1 guys got at Kennedy Space Center (and hooked up the rest of Team Discovery for once we got to Huntsville): http://www.visitnasa.com/nasa-passport-to-explore-space
Thanks again, Hoot!
We'd also had a discussion about mission patches. Like last year, I felt it was way too early as we didn't have any common experiences or knew each other yet. I offered to design the patch if the team wanted it. I later heard from someone on the team who said he'd seen this website and hoped I'd be on his team in regard to the mission patch. That really made my day. Coming into camp this year, I was seriously worried about the patch competition, as it was known ahead of time that a space fan group from Facebook was coming at the same time and I'd assumed they had their patch design already. I never saw what the other teams came up with, but I was determined to do my best. I laid out my "ten pounds of idea in a 2 pound bucket," theory of design which seemed to be well understood this time.
By the end of the day, we were beat. At that point, I had no idea it'd keep up that way until we were done...
MOCR for Bravo Mission: From top to bottom, Danielle, Aimee, Me and John
The mornings came really early. I always get up at 6AM at Camp, to get ahead of everyone else for the communal bathrooms and get an early start on the day. I never usually sleep well in the HAB and this year was no exception. I only slept through the night on the final evening I was there. But I go there for the experience, not to have a 5-star hotel room (though several people in our team stayed in hotels the entire time).
Starting off with a history tour of the Davidson Center with a former NASA engineer, the time just raced by. It didn't help that he wasn't a loud talker and we really needed more time than we had, but soon enough we were off for training for the second mission.
We're on what island?
We then headed over to the "Area 51" section near Aviation Challenge (no flight sims or centrifuge this year) and did a leader reaction course. I'd never been there before but it was standard stuff; get from one wood platform to another without touching the ground, only assited by two boards which are too short to span the distance. Bush league stuff for me and Justin, as we were picked to lead the group (he's a current USAF space guy) and soon enough we were taking care of things quite well. Again, everyone came with the same mindset.
After lunch, we had a second shuttle mission, which I pulled in Mission Control. By then, we used the full sized Enterprise simulator for the remainder of camp. The Atlantis simulator I flew last year had been removed from the floor before we got there. I ran numbers on burn data and stuff like that. That time went by uneventfully and quickly.
Losing the ET on the Bravo mission
After the Bravo mission, we went to discuss making our own model rockets from parts. This took a lot longer than was planned. We broke off into groups of 3 or 4. Chika, our team mate from Japan, suggested a good design for the rocket, which had to loft an egg and return it safely.
The Mission patch beckoned, so the team apparently agreed to my design using the Australian, American and Japanese flags as well as an Orion capsule (thank God, as I was getting tired of orbiter hardware on the previous patches I'd designed). Mel challenged us to include a kangaroo in the design and I instantly knew how I'd do that, by making one of the islands on the Earth's surface in the patch into that shape. I had brought various size sharpies and colored pencils and had the patch done reasonably fast. the team seemed pleased but I still had a nagging doubt that the design would win. I just wasn't sure what that Facebook team had figured out before we got there.
The phrase at the bottom is latin, for, "Been there, done that."
We then found out that we'd be running a lunar mission from the Orion capsule. I'd never used it nor the Lunar base modules before, so I was pumped. The Orion simulator has a lot of bugs in the software but we tried to make the best of it. The lander that Justin and I piloted had some problems but we got there fast enough. Soon we realized we'd be suiting up for a walk over to a damaged moon base for some repairs. Seeing the previous occupants recovering from their lunar walk, that should have tipped us off. John and Danielle (Barbie, too, I imagine) looked wrung out. We suited up, with no cooling at all inside the suits, and roasted right away. Justin's visor fogged completely up and I had to find some things by touch as there was no adequate lighting, but such is the way for astronauts. We fixed a broken window, re-connected several power cables and got the base running again. It took a while standing under the module's AC vents to cool off. Still, we both loved it.
Orion Mission to the Moon!
Full Orion and Lunar base crew. From left to right: John, Danielle, Lindsay, Cassandra, Justin and myself.
Lunar Mission Specialist. Both the Army and Air Force were well represented on the surface (both shots courtesy of Justin)
Once Justin and I suited up for the EVA, it was seriously cool but ridiculously hot in those things. Thanks to Justin for these two shots. He's the one with the helmet without the lights on the top. I love this second shot of him inside the moonbase!
One of the Facebook team crews doing a song and dance to get back into their mission after killing themselves somehow. It'd be our turn to do that soon enough...
Rain kept pounding the outside of the buildings, sometimes so hard we could hear it from where we were deep down inside the building, and it only let up every now and then. The perfect weather we'd enjoyed in Florida was over for good. Still, we never got caught by heavy rain in the open while going from one building to another.
Several people went to the bar at the adjacent Marriott hotel that night for drinks. The Facebook team was there, and an obese member who clearly lived in his Mother's basement was talking trash that didn't make any sense. I could have verbally (or physically) kicked the living hell out of him if I'd wanted with extreme ease - and would have had he made comments about the female members of the team I walked back to the HAB - but it wasn't worth the effort. It's probably the only time in his life he'll ever feel, 'cool.' It made me appreciate my own team mates even more to know we didn't pick up any bottom-feeders like that.
Another early start. By now, I'd realized breakfast came early if you just wanted cold food. I was always a cereal man, so I grabbed that, muffins and some fruit each morning.
On the bus...
Mel, watching Justin and I bringing up the rear of the team. God knows what she was thinking at the moment!
"Zip line, you say? I'll go first." Three photos by Danielle
Steve on the zip line.
Back to Area 51 again, for a zip line. No big deal for me as my Dad built one in the back yard for my brother and me when we were kids. This was from a tower 50 feet high, quite a bit taller than anything Dad ever built. You had to climb the tower to get to the line, which was no big deal for me other than being slightly winded once I got to the top. I volunteered to go first and was off pretty quick. That first step is a doozy but I had a blast. I now regret not diving off head first or rolling off the tower backwards.
Then, we trained for the 3-hour 'Long Duration Mission'. Against some serious hope that I'd be picked to command the orbiter (again, I'm all about the stick time), I instead got picked as a Mission Specialist to replace the crew in the ISS, along with fellow MS, Chika. This time, we'd be hit with bunch of malfunctions and crew issues. Trainers known as 'space ghosts' followed us and would randomly tell one of the crew to do something to see how everyone else would react. Hilarity ensued and we were off and running quickly. They killed the commander in the first couple of minutes, broke both my legs and knocked me out, made the pilot (my pal Steve) lose his mind and then made me go nuts, too. Meanwhile, Justin and John were dealing with their own issues in the ISS. Poor Chika simply couldn't keep up with it all, as if anyone could, as she was the only one not told to lose her mind. I was told to hint that I was going to open the main side hatch, which I did several times. When nobody tried to stop me, I shrugged and killed us all by flinging it open. The trainers made Mission Control do a dance to bring us back to life as it was more to wake them up for not paying attention. I was reminded of all the times I ran Opposing Force (OPFOR) exercises in the Army, so karma came back for me in that way. Things balanced out (they'd have to as in real life we'd have aborted to a TAL abort landing in Spain with all that going on) and soon we were at the ISS.
EDM crew, not knowing what was about to happen...
Justin was there and told us how hot the EVA was for them when he and John (yes, the crew of SEMM1 was all aloft again) did it.
Chika and I, just before all hell broke loose
Chika and I suited up for our spacewalk, with cooling vests filled with ice. Just as Justin said they would, they felt great until we started moving around. I roasted in that thing for the duration of the mission and sweat dripped onto my face shield and glasses enough to make it tough to see anything. We were both hoisted above the ISS on wires and had to move around. That part was surprisingly realistic in regard to holding yourself in one place and swinging everywhere. We did repairs and moved stuff around. All too soon, we were back inside the ISS cooling off (I was, anyway, Chika didn't look nearly as worn out as I was).
Chika and I, right after our ISS repair EVA. We had smiles on our faces, but I was wiped out by then! (photo courtesy of Chika)
Then, on to the Astrotek building for MAT, 1/6 scale training and finally we got to use the MMUs! I'd never even seen one running before and it was so cool to pilot it. Mel spun me around in the MAT and proceeded to ask space trivia questions. I had a devil of a time thinking of the third member of Apollo 1's crew at a time like that but I eventually did.
God, I loved flying this thing. Best camp shot ever! (Thanks to Lindsay for taking this great shot)
Danielle had the oddest Space Camp group shot I've ever seen, with her spinning around in the MAT behind us... (Photo supplied by Danielle)
It was time to head back to the Davidson building for the official team photo. I had brought an orbiter flag with the team name on it, and we used that for informal shots. The official shot was in front of the Apollo LM. By now, we were a team and initially questioned waiting so long for the team shot (in the past, they usually do it first thing). I'm glad we did it this way, now. When I broke out the flag, Mel took to wearing it like a cape.
I liked this shot better than the formal portrait. That's the Apollo 16 capsule in the background. Note that Barbie and Laika are in the shot as well.
By now, we'd missed dinner in the cafeteria. That didn't bug us (a few of us got sick from the food before this. I got a minor 'gut bomb' the day before but a couple of others got it really bad), but Mel was ticked as it wasn't outside the posted times. We all chipped in for pizza and Mel made the staff promise we'd get lunch after graduation to make up for this.
On to the Space Bowl, for an abridged version of the q/a game. An entire team decided not to even show up, amazingly. Our primary competition was the Facebook team, but we dominated anyway. It didn't last very long.
Pathfinder at dusk. I never get tired of seeing this.
During Space Bowl. Note the SEMM1 crew at the bottom (Steve, Me in the tan cap, and John), doing what we do best; imparting space trivia! Two guys with us in this shot were put onto our team because the rest of their team decided not to even show up(!) I felt really bad for them, being on a team like that. (Photo by Danielle)
The day was a blur of activity and it's now tough to recall everything.
I think some people went back to whatever they call the bar at the Marriott now (it used to be known as Otters) but I called my wife and walked around the inside and outside of a very lonely-looking HAB1 while the rain came down nonstop. It would have been good to hang with my team mates again but it was also nice to be alone for a few minutes. And it was great talking to my wife, who couldn't possibly understand what was going on where I was.
On the final night, I hopped into the public shuttle landing simulator and set it for highest difficulty. I landed the thing 5 straight times, right down the pike...
HAB1 late at night. So depressing on the final evening at Camp...
The last roundup begins...
The last day at Space Camp is always the hardest. I got up at 6 again, having actually gotten some sleep. We packed up Steve's truck so he could take me to the airport later that day. Breakfast was subdued in a way, until we heard that CBS's show, "This Morning" had filmed some B-reel stuff during our EDM mission, to support another story. Some of my team got on TV, which we cheered. Dr. Barnhart, who's run the place since the 80s, actually came to where we were to watch the show as it aired. Everyone was really glad to see that and I got to talk with her for a minute or two as I'd never met her before.
Me and Dr Barnhart
Me, Chika, Lindsay and Steve with the pre-and-post-launch of our guided missile with weaponized egg warhead. I'm still worried that we'll all eventually be called before the International Court at the Hague for war crimes and launching biological weapons... (Photo by Danielle)
We launched our rockets, with eggs inside. Ours decided to go, "guided missile" mode and took off at about a 20 degree angle for the trees. Steve hiked out and saw it ripped apart, too high to reach. The egg was MIA. Oh well.
All too soon, it was time to get our wings. Again. They asked those who'd attended camp before to stand up and our entire team stood up along with a couple of random people on the other teams. That surprised a few people, including me. John had the camp record that weekend, this being his 12th time! Justin was a close second, at 11, though.
ALL the teams lined up for graduation. Team Discovery is the second rank from the camera, I'm the tall guy giving a high thumbs up at the back of that row, behind John wearing the white cap. We were lined in reverse alphabetical order, so John was next to me this time.
At the graduation, Mel choked up in her speech as we stood in front of our beloved guide. That got to a few of us I think, as we really meant something to her. She made the experience, no question, but it still wouldn't have been as good as it was had we not been looped together with people of a similar mindset. It was a perfect storm, as it were.
We were told to turn our nameplates upside down as a camp tradition, which I didn't realize. I thought that was only for people who'd been there for the first time (Steve did, too), but I reluctantly turned mine upside down as literally everyone was doing so. They were ripped off and put right as we were handed our wings.
Graduation. Always a sad time.
We didn't win the commander's cup; the Facebook team got that. We did, however, get best mission for the Orion mission I was in on, and drum roll please...
Best mission patch.
I'm now 3-0 for wining patch design, something I was really happy with. I was shocked to find out that the staff actually was aware of this random guy from WA state who has mission patch skills. It never occurred to me that they were that aware of stuff like that.
Team Discovery (Barbie and Laika, too) stands tall for the final time, listening to Mel choke up while saying how good we were. Naturally, she was right... I left a gap between me and John so we weren't standing in front of Mel as she talked.
We did win space bowl, but it's not something you get anything for, now. How they figure these things out was always a mystery to me. The Right Stuff award went to a guy on another team. Oh well.
Mel won best trainer, which we cheered her on for. She was the best, no question. I couldn't bear to take back my Discovery flag as she loved it as her cape (I'd taken to calling her, "Queen Mel, the First"), so I asked the team to sign the flag and we presented it to her at lunch after we dispersed for the final time. She'll always be royalty in our book.
Me presenting Mel with the signed team flag (Photo by Danielle)
All hail, Queen Mel the First!
I walked around the grounds with Steve and John after saying goodbye to the team for the final time. Soon enough I had to say adios to John, then to Steve at the airport. My plane barely beat a nasty storm front through Huntsville to Denver, connected with no time to spare, and I was in Portland by 8:30, and home by 11. Space Camp 2014 was over.
My God, how I miss it so.
G'Day Team Disco, wherever you are.
Neat Camp swag. I finally got an alumni patch and I sure earned the ironic mission patch, patch!
More of my shots can be found here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/53587910@N05/sets/72157648729266106/
I put some of the shots here as well as from others on the team into this slideshow: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=klYM0S6UNjM
Lindsay uploaded some of her shots (which I'm in a few and I think I took a couple of them for her), which will give you an idea: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lindsaytice/sets/72157648365870849/
Danielle's blog on her Space Barbie is really good and is a must read! http://spcaeacademybarbie.blogspot.com/
After a while at home, I decided to do a digital version of the mission patch, as I plan on making patches out of this. The sketch always looks cooler than the finished version but I think this turned out okay, it sort of has an STS-7 patch feel to it. Alongside is the first of the patches I actually had made for the team. I love how they turned out:
Soon after my first trip to Space Camp, I decided I had to go back. In the months leading up to attending Space Academy in 2013, I was accepted into the Space Camp Ambassador Program, which means I became an official representative of Space Camp.
I kept in touch with Steve, one of the guys I was on Team Columbia with in 2012, and we decided to go at the same time again.
Myself and Steve, two old red-lanyard Space Cowboys ready to go at a moment's notice!
My very understanding wife relented and combined a return to Space Camp with a trip she'd dreamed of for years, to visit the 'other' end of Tennessee, to hit places like Memphis and Nashville. Plans made, I started plotting with Steve for the best return to Camp we could muster. The sight of the Saturn V mockup coming over the hill on Highway 525 through Huntsville was just as impressive the second time.
This sight never grows old as you first crest the hill!
We each showed up the day before camp started and I got my Space Center ID card (so people back home would realize I really was 'bonafide'). The staff seemed interested in our input, and I shared some of my ideas for how best to get the name of the Center out there to the public, especially the adult programs, which aren't very well known. Immediately afterward, I got some good detailed shots of Felix Baumgartner's pressure suit and capsule used in his 2012 world record parachute jump (127,852 feet). It was on a tour before heading to the Smithsonian for good. We were very lucky to get to see these historical pieces.
Felix Baumgartner's toys on display...
We then did the Redstone Tour. That went very well, being in the off season and hardly anyone was on the bus with us. We went to several places the public rarely ever sees. I think Steve was surprised when the tour guide said she was sure she recognized me from somewhere, as she was into living history stuff as I am...
ISS mission control and the Army's 'rocket garden' at Redstone.
DAY ONE: RETURN TO SPACE CAMP
The following morning, we hit the Space Center early, got plenty of photos and I tried my piloting skills on the Lunar Lander simulator. It said I had the best score of the day, putting it down right on the money, but there were likely few other people that day trying it. Like last year, we had the entire building for the Saturn V mostly to ourselves.
Saturn V mockup and the Skylab trainer.
To the Moon, Alice!
Soon it was time to check in for Camp. Steve and I had several surprises this year:
The HAB. Note to the new logo on the gate but the 1990s logo on the building...
Steve and I decided to keep our red lanyards from last year, and it was apparently obvious to many that we'd been there before, as total strangers were asking each of us what to expect for the weekend (I told most of them that it's okay that you don't have a clue about anything at first, my strongest advice. I hope it helped). The biggest shock came when we'd checked in early, went off to lunch and came back to find two more people in our room. A set of twins had been assigned to our room, which was fine with us as they seemed to be pretty good guys (an opinion Steve and I kept of them through the weekend).
Bret, Me and Steve in our room at the HAB (photo courtesy of Bret Leduc)
Odd coincidences kept coming when we were all surprised to find that the brothers had used this very website as a guide for what to expect at Space Camp. I'm not sure who was most surprised at that. The following day I had three other people from the other teams approach me saying they had recognized me from this website. I had no idea so many people apparently have seen it (If you're reading this and liked it, please drop me a line).
Pathfinder, another sight that never gets old.
We were in Team Discovery this year. I was fine with that, as it was named for the orbiter I've seen in person more often than any of the others. Soon I learned we weren't going to get to use the Enterprise orbiter simulator this year, instead using the Atlantis simulator. It has only the nose and crew compartments, but two trainers told me it was the mockup used as the Atlantis in the 1986 'Spacecamp' movie. Early on, we were asked to fill out a form to request what positions we wanted. Having missed landing the orbiter last year, I practically begged on the form to be the Commander on one of the shuttle missions, and also put in to be CAPCOM for another (that's the person who directly talks to the orbiter crew, a position filled by a fellow astronaut).
Here I am, sitting on my bunk and writing something in our room in the HAB (photo courtesy of Bret Leduc)
Our trainer was Andrea, one of the 20-somethings who pretty much run the operations. I could tell right away she had a deep interest in space history.
We never got around to a "getting to know you" session and instead went straight into the agenda. Like last year, there were a few members of the team I never got to talk with much. There were two sets of siblings, several who had been given the experience as a present from someone else (how come I don't know anyone who'd give me a trip to Space Camp?), and varying ages from mid-20s to, well, way beyond that. We went to the theater to see the IMAX movie, "Magnificent Desolation." Although I'd seen it before, it was a great way to start the weekend. The red lanyards Steve and I were wearing certainly drew some looks from several people (we decided to not wear the white ones they handed out but did wear the issued blue Camp t-shirts, the same type we had from last year). Our team photo was with the sun behind us, but it turned out just fine. Model rocket building was better this time as we didn't have the paint the things this year. We then plunged into the first (Alpha) mission, where I got my choice of CAPCOM and talked the two sisters through their mission. I felt for them, as the first crew rarely has any idea what's going on at first, but they did a great job getting ready in the practice runs.
CAPCOM position, Alpha mission
By then it was already dark and getting late. We sat down in the public cafeteria as a group and talked about the mission patch. This was, I think, not my best moment. Earlier that day, I had told several people I created the winning patch the previous year, had experience with military insignia design and would be willing to take on the project this year. Everyone I talked with on this point seemed just fine with that. After Andrea went over a basic explanation of mission patches, it devolved quickly. If you've ever seen the movie, "A smile as big as the Moon," the scene where they argue over the mission patch rings very true for some groups. Design by committee never works well, and I spoke up, saying that all mission patches have one or two themes at the most, using my well-worn comparison to putting 'Ten pounds of idea into a two pound bucket.' While that bulb seemed to be lit, moments later people were coming up with their own ideas, some of which had numerous (and unrelated) elements. At this point I tried to reign in some sanity, as we hadn't been together as a group very long at all. Frankly, I thought it was way too early to even discuss a patch yet. Looking back on it now, I think I really forced myself on the group. When I explained that a patch design with as much as a half dozen unrelated elements would have zero chance of winning against the other teams' designs, one person responded by suggesting that winning shouldn't be the point. I replied that perhaps they felt that way now, but come Sunday when the awards were being read out, they'd certainly care then. I decided to just ratchet it back a bit as nobody was sold on anyone's ideas by that point (including mine, which I had to admit wasn't all that great, either). Someone latched onto my 'bucket' comment, which became a solid element that most could agree they wanted. To this day I'm not sure how that happened. We left it up in the air and I realized that it was unlikely anyone else would step up when it came time to render the patch. Therefore, I decided I'd sketch up something once a good idea hit me and that probably everyone else would be okay with it because I was willing to do the grunt work on it. So, we left it there. One person on the team demanded that a peace symbol be included in any final design, which was echoed by a couple of other people in support. Being a former Army Captain and a military historian (and who still does occasional art and design projects for the military), I can't say I was sold on that concept at all. I'm still not.
We ran the Alpha mission and called it a night. The sisters did a great job. Thankfully, nobody on our team landed an orbiter with the landing gear still up the entire weekend that I'm aware of, which was a common problem last year. Steve was smart enough to bring a floor fan into the room, providing some 'white' noise and air circulation. I usually never slept well the first night of any deployment, and Space Camp was never an exception.
DAY TWO: "CAPCOM, ATLANTIS. WHEELS STOP."
We started the day at Breakfast, which always goes over well. By now, we were all getting up to speed on what was going on. We jumped into training for the 'Bravo' mission, which put Steve and me (and our roommates, the Leduc brothers) in the International Space Station. I've never been a big fan of the ISS, as you just throw some switches, run some junior-high school-level science experiments and that's pretty much it. Any during-mission hijinks usually take place in the ISS. I later saw video of some kind of dance party going on while I was doing CAPCOM duty.
The training for that is the only time you don't feel overwhelmed. I heard later that the orbiter crew almost didn't get the Atlantis onto the runway, but being in the ISS, I never got to see what their landing looked like. Irony creeped into the program again, with an orbiter Commander and Pilot who each had the same last name; in the ISS, we called them the "Flying Rodriguez's."
The Bravo mission lifts off and later has a very interesting landing. It sort of reminds you of the 'tap the breaks' scene in the movie, "Space Cowboys," doesn't it? (photos courtesy of Wendy Packard)
What made my day (heck, it made my year) was to hear the rest of our assignments. I not only got an orbiter Commander position, but got it for the 2-hour 'Charlie' mission as well! I'd been wanting to land the orbiter since the previous year, so this is really all I was focused on for the rest of the day. We took our model rockets down to the pad and launched them. Most of the people recovered theirs as it wasn't windy that day. The launch pad is right up against an RV park and I've always wondered what the people there think about a group showing up for a mass rocket firing, then leaving immediately like that.
Steve make rocket go zoom!
The space history session in the Davidson Center went as normal, I just hung back as I've read a lot of space history in the past few years. We went to the sims and went through training for the Charlie mission. Steve was on the flight deck with me, pulling a mission specialist slot to do an EVA ('spacewalk', that is). We were each in our element; Steve loves EVA and I love the cockpit so we both were doing what we wanted most. It took a minute to get the feel for the orbiter controls. But once I got the feel for them, I took the Atlantis through three initial approaches to relatively smooth landings at Kennedy. Wendy, an attorney by trade, was the pilot (more irony as the Commander lands the orbiter, not the pilot) and I was very impressed with how fast she got through those checklists. She went much faster than I had in the same seat, the year before. I knew this would be a great mission with us in the cockpit.
CAPCOM position with Yours truly assisted by Wendy in Atlantis (photo courtesy of Bret Leduc)
Next, we went to the Astrotech building and used the 1/6 gravity Moon simulator chairs and the MAT. The Mutli-Axis-Trainer is that device that spins three concentric rings around an axis of the occupant in the center. It looks horrible and I didn't do it last year as I'd had a bad headache then. I hopped into it right away this time, as I've never been one to back from a challenge. Really, it's not as bad as it looks. I couldn't resist yelling, "I like, it, I love it, I can't get enough of it!" Afterwards we all had a shot at the 1/6 gravity chair, which is always fun.
It's not as bad as it looks. Really. No, there's not a stick to stabilize it like in the 1986 movie...
Now, it was time for the main event. This is the moment I'd waited a year for. They pushed for people to be in flight suits in the orbiter, so I broke out my Camp flight suit. I'd regretted not wearing it on my mission last year and wasn't going to miss the chance this time.
I have a small collection of Space Camp memorabilia, including a few flight suits. The sight of this room really blew me away...
Two hours goes by really fast in the cockpit. We got in, buttoned up and Wendy breezed through all the prepatory procedures (getting the Auxiliary Power Units is a real pain for some). We were ahead of the clock and enjoyed the liftoff, keeping right at the timeline or just ahead of it all the way. I couldn't have hoped for a better person for that right hand seat! Sitting on the pad, I was able to notice the little details out the windows of the orbiter, like the arms retracting from the launch platform and the 'beanie' (actually it's called the Gaseous Oxygen Vent Arm, that thing clamped down at the top of the 'stack' right before launch, but it's often called 'beanie cap') coming off the external tank. The only thing lacking was a vibration as the main engines lit, followed by the solid rocket booster ignition 5 seconds later. Once we cleared the tower, there was no concept of speed. CAPCOM (my roommate Bret Leduc) did great at this moment, he had looked up what the CAPCOM on STS-130 said at liftoff, just as we cleared the tower, "God speed and continue to discover the mysteries of space." It was a great (and very authentic) touch. By this time, everyone was really into what they were doing. Most of the mission was spent going through all the checklists and inputting a lot of data. Wendy completely left me in the dust in that department. Meanwhile, Steve and our other spacewalker suited up and handled building a structure in space suits, 'floating' in harnesses suspended from the roof. About the time we needed to get the orbiter configured to land, we still had the payload bays open. Not good. I'm sure down at Mission Control, the Flight Director was screaming at CAPCOM to get us to get the darned doors closed, but we a had a problem there. Our spacewalkers outside had opened the doors and it looked like their checklist was with them. Thankfully, Wendy saw the checklist for that under one of their seats, in an angle I never could have seen it from. She hopped out of her chair, grabbed it, and we got the door closed pretty quickly once we knew we had the right info. I think I heard cheers on the CAPCOM frequency as he called in that he was seeing the doors close. By then we needed the right info to input for which place we were going to land at. CAPCOM wasn't giving us what we needed, but from last year I knew we'd land at Kennedy (naturally, we weren't getting the forgiving long runway at Edwards). So, knowing that the normal runway at Kennedy for orbiter landings was runway 33, we put that in. About 3 minutes later, we got the call from Mission Control for that very runway. We just snickered for a moment and said okay to that. Soon our spacewalkers were back in (good thing, too, as I didn't want to say, "Sorry we smoked you out there and left you to die" to Steve at dinner afterward) and then it was all on me. Having seen people belly-land orbiters at Space Camp before, I wasn't worried at all as I trusted Wendy to be on top of getting the gear down at the right moment. I focused on keeping Atlantis on the track and into the glide slope to set her up for the landing. Steve said something about wanting a smooth landing. I think he did, anyway, as I was pretty focused on the stick. I think I said something like, "So help me, I'm gonna get this bird on the ground nice and smooth."
"Who's the best pilot you ever saw?" (special thanks to crew trainer Stephan Saint for taking this photo)
Landing that sucker is a little tough because you're looking out the left set of windshields, it's like driving a car with one eye open and leaning way out the side window. I've manhandled my fair share of control sticks before, so I set her down to what the old timers used to call, 'greasing the landing.' I felt like I was still up there as I was so high on the experience. I just wish I could have seen the video that mission control saw of that landing (or at least asked CAPCOM to take a photo of Atlantis as it touched down). I just waited for the pavement to quit moving so I could sound off with the words used at the end of each shuttle mission:
"CAPCOM, Atlantis. Wheels Stop."
Charlie mission cockpit crew. Thanks again, Wendy!
A very enthusiastic group met for dinner. Turned out, I'd flown the orbiter right through the space station! You don't have the orbiter on a control stick when it's in orbit, and I know we input all the info correctly, so I have no idea why the track of the Atlantis had us pass through the same space as the ISS (there was no docking in the mission profile). The sims aren't configured to react to an impact in space, so was passed through one another and hummed along as if nothing happened. Nobody ever explained what the heck happened there, though.
Boarding the bus to Aviation Challenge, we all went to the F-18 sims, shot one another down (nobody got even close to me) then got spun around the centrifuge. I asked them to crank it up to see how much I could take before passing out (I've pulled 7 that I know for certain, long ago) but I didn't think that they would do that. So Neil and I (both sharing the centrifuge capsule) couldn't recreate the scene from "Space Cowboys" where Tommy Lee Jones says, 'First one to pass out buys the beer,' darn it. I think Neil was probably very happy that they wouldn't crank it up as hard as I wanted them to.
Note the patches on my flight suit, only the NASA center patch above the nameplate is original to the suit. The NASA 'meatball' patch is from a shirt my Mom put together for me at the age of 12, after I saw a news story about the starting of Space Camp. She recently found it and mailed it to me, so it was a given it had to go on my Space Camp flight suit!
The mission patch had yet to be done and nobody had mentioned it much since that first night. So before we were done for the evening, I showed a quick sketch I'd done at lunch which used a few of the elements that others had thought of (yes, including that peace symbol) and offered to render it right then. At that point, I think all of them realized that it would simply be easier and everyone agreed. While all but a couple of people went to Otter's bar at the Marriott next door (long a scene of adult Camper insanity but soon to pass into history in a remodel of the hotel), I bounded up to our room in the HAB to get the patch done. I used a book I'd brought with photos of the orbiters just for this very reason, then hammered out a design. After showing it to Steve, I went to Otter's with a cell photo of the drawing to show everyone. It was generally well recieved.
The group was really getting into the groove as a team, just as we were getting close to being done.
DAY THREE: "I GUESS IT'S EASY WHEN YOU HAVE A PROFESSIONAL ARTIST WITH YOU..."
The day started way too early for some. I hadn't had any alcohol the night before (I'd taken some sinus pills before going to Otter's and frankly, my power-drinking days are behind me now), so I felt fine. Some of the team members were a bit sluggish getting to breakfast. I noticed two of the other teams just starting to draw their patches as I turned ours in. We had to get everything out of the rooms before breakfast, so morning came really early for some. Each morning, I had my cell phone alarm set for 6AM. Getting up earlier than needed is generally a good idea at Space Camp as you have no clue how busy the restrooms and showers are going to be in the morning. It's a habit I've had since my Army days.
Steve, the Leduc brothers and I leaving room L2-07 (photo courtesy of Bret Leduc)
The winning mission patch and the artist doing a cheesy pose (second photo, courtesy of Bret Leduc)
The Space Bowl is a trivia contest between teams, and I doubt I was alone in being surprised to see that only two of the four teams showed up. While I answered every question correctly I could get to the buzzer first (including the first African-Amercian astronaut, something I doubt anyone else in the room knew), I later learned I cost us the match because I didn't put too many points on the final question, which we got right. I'm still a little bummed about that.
"I'll take know-it-all team mates for $400..."
Two people had discussions about potential call signs, something I'd read was a fixture of Space Camp (but never happened on any team I've been on). One lady used a wheelchair for long walks, and I heard someone use the term, "Payload," which I said for sure would have been her call sign, had we sat down to give them out. This remains the only time I've heard of any potential call signs at Camp. I'm not even sure I'd wanna know what the team would have called me...
Right before Team Discovery went into the room for graduation and then into the history books, they gave all the mission patch designs back to everyone. (photo courtesy of Wendy Packard)
We had some time to kill, which felt odd because the day didn't have much in it at all. Soon enough, it was time to graduate. The usual things were said and it went quickly. I was disappointed that we didn't get best shuttle mission as I think Wendy and I and our EVA team did a great job. Each team won something, which a few of us thought was a way to make everyone feel good at the end. Out of four teams, we didn't dominate like my team last year had, but we won key award:
Best mission patch.
The team went nuts when they annouced our name.
Yeah, they cared after all.
They said that the competition for the mission patch was close this time, and I truly wondered if that was just to make everyone else feel better. One team didn't seem to be too keen on us winning and when I was asked to show the patch around the room, one person from the team behind us said, "I guess it's easy when you have a profession artist with you." I let it go at that, still unsure if that was a joke or snide comment. I don't care either way and it was nice to create two consecutive winning mission patch designs. It felt great that everyone on our team got the little shuttle stack pin given out as an award (my second one, both are now on my lanyard for the next time I go).
The goodbyes were quick and everyone scattered to the four winds right away. Steve and I trolled the gift shop for a bit and soon enough I had to head to the airport to pick up my wife and start our road trip. Team Discovery, 2013, was completed.
Am I going back?
Seriously, do you even have to ask?
Space Academy, 2013, Team Discovery
All of the better photos I took can be seen in large-format here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/53587910@N05/sets/72157635936779803/with/10009276173/
I completed a you tube video of my most recent SC experience (FYI, that's theme music from "The Right Stuff" in there):
On Christmas Eve, 2013, I got this photo from team member Alex Bowers Schoen (wearing the red shirt, middle row in the above group photo). She proved a Space Camp patch makes for a great ornament!
The lone star stands for our trainer, Lydia, who guided us the way, and who we all loved working with. Afterward, I worked with a patch guy who created a digital version of my final concept for the patch, and patches were finally made.
A couple of weeks after getting home, I put this video together of my photos. Enjoy! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=puDJFZ-RDWA&feature=relmfu
Well, I did go back and plan on going next year, too. Still, here's what I'd suggest to people who've never been to Space Camp and are going for the first time.
What do I wish I'd brought (or am glad I had brought)?
Well, a lot of it, anyway. Here are a few things that "Space Camp," and "Space Warriors" (as well as "A Smile as big as the Moon," to a lesser degree) will teach you about Space Camp that are dead wrong:
You get to fly into space if you're lucky. No flipping way will this ever happen to you. EVER. You wouldn't expect to go to a baseball fantasy camp and be thrown into a Major League game by the end of it, would you? Movies about a training program of any kind have to have a better ending than whoever ever did the best ('Top Gun' had to have a dogfight and anyone's who been through that training will tell you you'd never see everyone from the same class in the same dogfight the day after they compete that school), so they have to have kids going into space, or helping out with astronauts. 'Space Warriors' had the winning team going to the International Space Station, yet nobody mentioned that at the end of the film, so I guess it was a bait-and-switch? Or maybe NASA either realized the Russians would never launch kids from their facilities or realized how insane the idea was as they almost lost three astronauts on the ISS. Two trivia points on the 1986 "Space Camp" movie: 1. The original ending of 'Space Camp' was to have Russian Space Camp kids rescuing the American shuttle kids. How stupid would that ending have been? 2. The Flight Readiness Firing (FRF) of the orbiter Atlantis shown in the film was the original engine firing before the orbiter's first mission (wich was STS-51J about a month later) which took place on 16 September 1985, well after the usual Space Camp sessions would have been done for that year.
You'll have a currently-serving astronaut for a trainer. Not gonna happen*! The bottom line is that Space Camp isn't actually run by NASA and astronauts don't get to Huntsville nearly as much as they did in the Apollo era. Your trainer will be someone in their early 20s. Yes, some camp sessions will have someone who's flown to space talk to large groups, but that's as good as it gets (most adult camps never get this as those sessions are small). Current astronauts are simply way too busy to show up to help out at Space Camp.
A soon-to-fly shuttle pilot and someone who's walked on the Moon as your trainers at Space Camp? This never happens*.
*Okay, starting in 2015, they have had week-long "Train with an Astronaut" programs for adults, once a year. They're expensive and could vanish at any point. But even then, they're not current astronauts as they only use people who've retired from the program.
Space Camp is competitive and to even show up, you have to be the best of the best. Nah. You just have to have pay the fee to get there and have a pulse. People do compete in teams for some categories, but it isn't as obvious as shown in the film nor is it generally taken all that seriously. People do compete for the "Right Stuff" award each session, but none of these things ever show up as a bracket, you jhave no clue how anyone's doing until the end. You're there to have fun and enjoy yourself, you can stress yourself at school or work if that's your thing and you never have to leave your hometown for that.
Study your backside off, because you have to know the systems inside and out. There's no time for that, your missions are run off checklists, and at first you have no clue what you've just done. This is supposed to fun, not work! By the time you've run a mission you get a small clue what you're doing. And there's not a lot of downtime to study anything, anyway.
Space Camp ends forever once you're around 18 or so. There is a program for adults who want to go to Space Camp and it's been in operation for almost the whole time Camp has been in operation (in fact, the first Adult program started the week after the film crew for the first "Space Camp" movie left Huntsville). Recently scaled back from a week-long program to three days, the adult sessions often sell out. They take place at the end of the summer, usually in September, when the kids are gone. There are also programs where parents go with their kids and they all experience Camp at the same time. Also, there are educator programs where school teachers go and are in teams with other teachers from all over the country. So yes, adults do go to Space Camp!
You'll have plenty of free time. The schedule for most of the Space Camp programs is pretty filled up, as they want to give you the best bang for your buck and also exhaust you so you don't give them any problems at night. The days can start before 6:00 AM or so and can easily end past 10:00 PM, during which you’ve been on the go all day long. Also, those simulators and team rooms are usually used only when you're with your trainer, during the times you're scheduled to use them. So, going off and getting some time on the F-18s or shuttle simulators really isn't going to happen unless you're scheduled for it and everyone else on your team will be there with you. And forget about running over to Launch Complex 39 to see anything sitting there waiting to be launched (like they did in, "Space Camp"), as Kennedy Space Center is just short of 700 miles from Huntsville!
Going to/been to Space Camp
Space Camp / Aviation Challenge: http://www.spacecamp.com/ or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Space_Camp
The Hab1 website: http://www.hab1.com/
The Hab forum: http://habforum.hab1.com/
History / memorabilia on Space Camp
Space Camp collecting: http://www.richasi.com/SpaceLink/camp.htm
A Smile as big as the Moon: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Smile_as_Big_as_the_Moon and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2100380/
Space Warriors: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2328745/
General space/NASA links:
Field Guide to American Spacecraft: http://www.americanspacecraft.com/pages/aaindex/home1.html
Space Facts dot Com (an excellent site for flight trivia): http://www.spacefacts.de/english/flights.htm
Apollo Surface Journal (great NASA website for all things Apollo): http://www.hq.nasa.gov/alsj/frame.html
Apollo Gallery: http://www.apolloarchive.com/apollo_gallery.html
Neil Armstong and Buzz Aldrin space suits today (great shots from the Smithsonian collection as these historic suits are today, they rotate them on display in DC): https://history.nasa.gov/alsj/a11/A11NAAFlownSuit.html and http://www.hq.nasa.gov/alsj/a11/A11BA-Flown-Suit.html
Apollo misison patches: http://history.nasa.gov/apollo_patches.html
Shuttle mission patches: http://history.nasa.gov/shuttle_patches.html
Alternate patches: http://www.flickr.com/photos/spacepatches/collections/
NASA flight helmet info: http://www.salimbeti.com/aviation/helmets8.htm
National Air and Space Museum's space collection: http://www.nasm.si.edu/collections/collection.cfm?collid=1483&startrow=1&showrecords=all
STS-27's close call (how the shuttle program almost ended in disaster in 1988): http://www.spaceflightnow.com/shuttle/sts119/090327sts27/
NASA photos: http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/gallery/index.html
Kennedy Space Center Gift shop: http://www.thespaceshop.com/
NASA Mission Specialist nameplates (look halfway down the list): http://www.stewart-emblems.com/nb/
AB Emblem (the NASA contractor for patches): http://www.abemblem.com/nasa.php
Space Collectibles of Seattle: http://www.seattlespacecollectibles.com/home.html
JPL's NASA store: http://www.bookstore.caltech.edu/jpllab/shop_product_list.asp?catalog_group_id=NQ&catalog_group_name=TmFzYSBNZXJjaGFuZGlzZQ&catalog_id=11&catalog_name=TmFzYSBNZXJjaGFuZGlzZQ&sort=0&all=1
The Space Store: http://www.thespacestore.com/
Kennedy Space Center visitor center: http://www.kennedyspacecenter.com/?gclid=CO28mJKvkLkCFS9dQgodc1oASQ
Johnson Space Center visitor center, Houston: http://spacecenter.org/