“Houston, we have a problem.” This was the first time I had uttered this phrase in a non-ironic way. I was in a bona fide space suit, suspended in a harness in mid-air, attempting to repair a broken satellite antenna.
I was at Space Camp.
Let’s back up a bit. I didn’t know Space Camp for adults was a thing. Until two years ago, when I happened to be walking the trade show floor at SXSW, where NASA had a booth. I poked my head through the astronaut cardboard cutout, had a friend snap a photo, and as I started to walk away, the booth attendant (in his NASA flight suit), said, “If you tweet your picture, you’ll be entered to win a weekend at Space Camp.” I smiled, thanked him, and told him I didn’t have children. “Oh, but we have Adult Space Camp as well.” I turned around. “Really? Tell me more.” He did, gave me a brochure, and it was all I could talk about for weeks. I wanted to go to Space Camp.
I grew up in the age of NASA. I remember successful, and unsuccessful, shuttle launches. I remember exactly where I was, and what I was doing, the day the Challenger exploded.
On my birthday, a group of friends gave me a gift bag with dehydrated “astronaut” ice cream. And a coupon to go to Space Camp. I was elated. Space Camp!
The dates didn’t work out last year (adult space camp is only offered a few weekends a year), but this year they did. We booked Space Camp, we booked flights, and we were on our way.
We arrived to Huntsville, AL on Friday morning. We performed the nicety chatter with the Enterprise clerk that is required when you’re in the south. “Ya’ll from San Francisco? I visited there once. Big hills.” “Yeah. Big hills everywhere. Nice city, though.” “Real nice city. Ya’ll driving out of state?” “No, we’re just goin’ to Space Camp.” (My southern accent returns with a vengeance when I’m south of the Mason Dixon line.) “Well, welcome to Alabama. Have a good time, now, ya’ hear?”
As we were driving, I suddenly shouted, “Oh. My. God! ROCKET!”
There, looming in the distance, was a lone rocket. We were closing in on Marshall Space Flight Center.
It was all I could have hoped for and more. A true camp experience, with bunk beds (I’m too old to sleep in a top bunk), cafeteria food (tator tots and fried chicken strips with every meal), and shared bathrooms. And SPACE!
We were Team Columbia. We had team members from all over the US, all ages, all professions. We had (somewhat) successful missions (we had fun – that’s what counts – right?!?!?).
We built rockets. Some even actually launched.
We experienced G’s. We spun around. We “walked” on the moon. We played “Space Bowl,” a Jeopardy like game challenging our space knowledge. We explored the Space Center at night, after it was closed, and all had gone home for the day. We flew in a flight simulator (I crashed – multiple times – as well as lost the airport; I guess I’ll stick to HR). We watched a space IMAX movie narrated by Tom Hanks. We ate Dippin’ Dots (the ice cream of the future, that I ate 30 years ago as a child at Epcot Center at Disney World….).
But most important of all, we had fun.