Space Camp for Grown-Ups

(Photo: Charles Atkeison)

You might not make it into space during your lifetime, but you might get to Space Camp. Since 1982, this NASA program at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama has promoted space exploration by putting kids through simulations of astronaut training and life in space.

It's mostly for kids, but some lucky adults can participate, too. Jane Engle of the Los Angeles Times was one of them. She summarized the training:

During my program last year, more than 40 participants built and launched model rockets, whirled around in a G-force simulator, got turned topsy-turvy, piloted mock fighter jets and attempted to walk in simulated low gravity.

We also spent hours inside mock-ups of a space shuttle cockpit, NASA mission control and the International Space Station, the settings for simulated shuttle missions that formed the core of our training. Working in teams, we took turns crewing the space shuttle orbiter, monitoring the mission, conducting research experiments and doing extravehicular activities, a.k.a. spacewalks, to make repairs.

It was not a time to play. The adult Space Camp has a demanding training regimen and spartan living conditions:

On the first day, our nonstop schedule stretched beyond dinner. The next morning, we mustered for breakfast at 7:30 and finished our activities after 8 p.m. Meal breaks were as short as 30 minutes — just as well, because the cafeteria's food was forgettable. (The food service has since been upgraded, according to Tim Hall, a spokesman for the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.)

We slept in the sleek, four-story Habitat building, which was cleverly tricked out to evoke life in space. Our communal bathroom, for example, was labeled "Female Waste Management." The snug dormitory rooms, on the other hand, were charmless. Ours was furnished with several bunk beds, lockers and little else. Towels were not provided.

-via Marilyn Terrell

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