Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Cosmic Girl (Jamiroquai)

She's just a cosmic girl
From another galaxy
My heart's at zero gravity
She's from a cosmic world

July 20-27
Space Camp!

I was feeling a little like I was stuck in the movie Groundhog Day as I was back at the airport again.  Thanks to the weather, I didn't roll into Huntsville Alabama until well after midnight.  My fellow STOYs had been updating their status and posting pictures on Facebook all day and even though I had only seen them two weeks before, I couldn't wait to see them all again.  The bond I have with this group is something I can't even begin to explain.

In Omaha, Dave Bosso (CTSTOY) and I had been warned by previous year STOYs about the horrible coffee, uncomfortable beds and seemingly ubiquitous tater tots.  It was camp after all, so I prepared myself.  I could deal with the tater tots and the beds, it was the coffee I was worried about.

 7am on Saturday morning and we were on the bus headed to the US Space and Rocket Center.  Thanks to my roomie Katie Ferguson, NY STOY, I had a human alarm clock who wouldn't let me miss the bus.  Now that is friendship!  Knowing my proclivity for tardiness (I just get distracted and loose track of time), she was a life saver. Getting to bed after 2am didn't help and we had a full day of events ahead of us.  I didn't care what the coffee tasted like, as long as there was a lot of it.

My roomie and one of my STOY besties Katie.  She helps keep me organized, no easy task! 

Turns out I didn't have to worry about the coffee at all.  When I sent this pic to the previous year STOYs they were very jealous!  Not only was the coffee great even when we were not near the Keurig machine, but the food was awesome.  I didn't see a tater tot (or Tang) all week!

We were greeted by Marsha, the head of the education department who had one of the cutest haircuts ever. 

We were also introduced to Wes Kennedy, fearless leader of Team Harmony. Boy would he have his hands full with our group! He was a great sport throughout and was constantly watching out for us. Space Camp would not have been the same without him and his southern twang.  You ROCK, Wes!

I found out when I arrived that I was on team Harmony, along with Katy and Katie, (this group was going to have fun) and was issued a flight suit for all my missions.  This was serious stuff! I had to add a little flair though, these suits were designed for men.

As you can see, the caffeine finally kicked in as I was laughing again with Katy, MNSTOY.  Actually I do a lot of laughing when I am with Katy, one of my STOY besties, who is one of the funniest people I know.  Team Harmony was going to be awesome as we found out that our other team members were Leigh (UT), Luisa (NE), Chad (HI), Tim (OH), Mark (WA), Elena (OR) Kristen (MO), Adam (MA) and we were joined by Judy from MS, Mak from Singapore and Tyril from Australia.  Here is a picture of our crew.


The temps in Huntsville were swamp-like outside, but the air conditioning was working well inside.  We were constantly putting our flight suits on and taking them off, sometimes because we had a mission, but sometimes because we were just cold. Our day was split between missions and classroom activity and I learned more in a week about NASA and space than I have my entire life.  We went from 7:30am to 9:30 pm on most days, but we still found time to have fun.   

Saturday evening we had our opening ceremony with the parade of nations, where we had to dress like someone or something from our state.  Who to choose?  NJ has just as many infamous as famous people so there were plenty to choose from.  However, I can never resist a chance to dress up and anytime you can wear a tiara you should, so I went as Miss America.  The pageant began in Atlantic City in 1921 and although it has moved to Vegas, there is a whole museum-like set of displays at the Convention Center hotel in AC.  I was inspired because I had to pass all the gowns and crowns when I was at the NJEA convention, my coming out party. 

The cool thing about this hall is that above our heads the Saturn V was hanging and spanned the length of the hall.  Wow.  The engines alone are enormous!

                                                 Sunday morning (it certainly didn't feel like a Sunday) we were up and at em at the Low Ropes course.  It was a team building area where we had to work together to figure out some puzzles.  It was kind of like a chess game with real people. 

We got caught in a rain storm and ended up walking back to campus, but we felt like we had accomplished much that morning and the bond in the group grew much stronger. 

Later it was back to the classroom to learn about the history of space and then have a class that showed us how to build rockets.  We launched them later that week and I even got to bring mine home.  Would you believe I got it home on an airplane?  Good thing there was no engine in it.   I don't know about everyone else, but I was pretty tired by the end of the day. 

Luisa, Elena and me launching bottle rockets.  We almost hit a car!

Betty Crocker with Betty Rocket

Ready to launch our rockets

While we were doing all this, we also had our missions to train for.  One was the Space Shuttle Atlantis and my job was the flight director at mission control.  When an anomaly happened and things went wrong it was the person in my position who had the final say so on the solution. I volunteered for the position, but my team said that they thought I was perfect for the job.  What a vote of confidence. Just watch Apollo 13, I am the guy with the vest.  It was not easy learning a new language and watching all those screens, but our all female mission control had things in check. 

Here are the women of Harmony practicing earlier in the day.  It is kind of like teaching, you have to be aware of all things at all times.  It wasn't easy deciphering all this information. 
Here we are during our mission. 

The week went on from there as we did more classroom stuff, another mission, (this time to the moon on Orion) a little public outreach, had some great guest speakers,  and a whole lot of bonding. 

The Ladies of Harmony

The crew before our Orion mission.  Bring it!

The Pilot (me) and Mission Specialists Elena and Tim

Our Commander, Kristen, and Mission Specialists Leigh and Luisa
Mission Control during Orion.  CapCom Katy looks a little stressed!

 Here we had to design a heat shield.  It could only be about a half inch thick and you had points to purchase the items on the table.  The goal was to protect our egg (the crew) as a blowtorch was set on our shield for three minutes.  When we were done, we had minimal charring, but the egg was still cool to the touch and not cooked!  We were waiting for someone's to explode. 

We also did other classroom experiments to filter water, build a lunar space colony,  and design a landing capsule and rover for an egg that didn't break after dropping it from about 15 feet.  Whew! 

 After dinner one night, it was time for astronaut simulations.  This was not necessarily the best idea since we all had just stuffed ourselves with pizza, but off we went.  The multi-access trainer had me worried, as I tend to get motion sickness, but I figured this may be the only time I get to do this.  Cross it off the bucket list.  Mission accomplished.  We also tried 1/6th gravity chairs to simulate walking on the moon and a jet pack simulation. Try not to laugh too hard at the video.

The view of the shuttle when we left simulation training was great.  Couldn't resist a photo op.

Did I mention there were zip lines?  Oh yes, we did that too.

Of course with this group it would never be all work and no play.  We managed to have a 1980s dance party back at the dorms one night and on our final night there we went to that Huntsville landmark, Olivia's, a karaoke bar.  I don't know if I will ever get the vision of all the STOYs on stage singing We Are the World out of my head....ever.

Graduation was a great event which came too fast.  Where had the week gone?  We had learned so much and had fun, but at the same time the event was bittersweet because we knew that we would soon be departing.  We received our wings, had our name badges turned, and posed for some final pictures.

 But before graduation was over, they gave The Right Stuff award to the person the staff believed was the complete package.  It went to none other than Katy from Minnesota!  The room erupted into thunderous applause and I don't think anyone in the place would argue with the decision to give the award to our own Miss Congeniality.  Katy was overwhelmed by the love.

We parted at the crack of dawn the next day, some of us not having slept at all, but when we did finally reach our homes, I would like to think that most of us went to sleep with hearing the laughter of our fellow STOYs in our heads as we ended an amazing week.  I will see all of them again when they come to NJ in September and I can't wait!

4:30am at the Huntsville Airport.  Heading home!

I had a wedding to get back to that evening.  One of my former students, Yvette, who graduated in 2002 and has been largely responsible for my great wardrobe this year, was getting married.  I wouldn't have missed it for the world, but you will have to wait a week to find out how it went and learn about the note waiting for me when I got home.   


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