Countless boys and girls over the years have surely dreamed of going to space and exploring the inky void in which the earth turns. Only a select few human beings have ever gotten to experience such a privilege.
For the rest of the planet, there’s space camp.
Somerset’s Bobbie Mason was just such a young woman. She’s now a teacher in Rockcastle County, but when she was younger, she had her sights set on the stars — or at least the earthbound approximation.
“I’m an ‘80s kid,” she said. “The movie ‘Space Camp’ was always in the back of my mind.”
Bobbie was referencing not only the 1986 adventure film starring the likes of Lea Thompson and Kate Capshaw, but the experience her own two boys — Daniel, 16, and Brock, 11, got to live out earlier this summer in Huntsville, Ala., at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.
“Mom had always wanted to go to space camp,” said Daniel. “We were looking for something for me to do and found this was one of the top (camp experiences).”
That was six years ago, the Mason family’s first such experience. Daniel, now a high school junior, wasn’t able to go by himself then, “so we did a family program.”
This time, in late June, Daniel went alone to the Advanced Space Academy. The week-long program is designed for trainees to fly a simulated space mission to the International Space Station, and participate in experiments there as well as complete a spacewalk.
Daniel also participated in the Aviation Challenge at the Space and Rocket Center. While some of these experiences focused on aircraft closer to earth, Daniel was no less psyched for the experience.
“There was a pilot and a navigation officer; I was the pilot. It was a double cockpit simulator,” he said, noting that he’s had the “exciting experience” of flying a real Cessna plane before as well.
“I had a lot of fun,” said Daniel. “Who wouldn’t? … When you look up in the clouds and wonder what’s up there, it pretty much answers every questions you’ve ever had. Bright blue skies and the world before your eyes.”
Daniel particularly enjoyed the “Top Gun Challenge,” where teams competed in fighter jet simulations. There was also ziplining, simulated parachuting, and survival training.
“You go off into a gated-off field where there are trees and rivers,” he said. “You have to build shelters and a camp fire. One night, you have to go out in full camouflage, cover yourself in charcoal and sneak around in the wood and try not to get caught. It took a lot of teamwork to get through this stuff.”
Daniel said he’d like to potentially join the U.S. Air Force one day. “(The camp experience) is a pretty good testing for it.”
Brock, a seventh-grader, attended the Space Camp at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center as well, one geared toward beginners, and another focused on robotics.
“We’d go off and do a simulator, learn about space history, sometimes go over to the Davidson Center for Space Exploration (and see) the Saturn V rocket,” said Brock, a young man whose speech patterns in an interview sound advanced beyond his years. “I got a chance to be a commander in my first mission. The flight commander or pilot would bring me in and I’d help fix an anomaly with the space shuttle. The second mission, I was the flight commander, and it was a lot more complicated.
“My favorite part was probably the simulator that simulates being on the moon, with 1/6th of your weight on earth,” he added. “Also it was a lot cooler experience than just getting on a (virtual reality) headset. It was a lot more immersive. They had simulated the ground of the moon.”
Robotics, however, really captured Brock’s interest. A “hobby” of his, Brock got to build a robot from scratch and enter it into a competition.
“There were remote control robots … and programmed robots, which were much harder because there are a million variables that could go wrong,” said Brock. “Say you had the code just perfect to get one task finished, but little Johnny accidentally bumped into the computer and changed the rotation to three from the required two, which completely messes up the entire program.”
Brock said that “a kid being my age would say (they’d want) a robot that was programmed to clean their room” — but he wouldn’t mind having one that functioned as a private chef around the house.
“It was awesome,” said Bobbie of the family camp they did six years ago. “It was a really good experience. It kept us really busy.
“Daniel, with his advanced Space Academy (experience), actually gets a college credit hour through the University of Alabama in Huntsville,” she added. “(The camps) are very good, creative things to do during the summer. It really pushes science while having fun, and I think it really motivates the kids.”
Daniel is a junior at Rockcastle County High School and Brock is a 7th grader at Rockcastle County Middle School.