The morning of the 2014 Space Camp TweetUp & Aviation Challenge was amazing, but the afternoon was all adventure!
Just after lunch we all changed into our swim clothes for our water adventures! The first activity was the zip line!
Do you see that tower? It’s huge! Well, okay, not huge, but it’s around 35 feet up in the air. It looks a lot higher than that when you have to climb up the stairs and walk up to the platform to get harnessed in. Space Camp and it’s staff are very aware of safety, and because of this, it makes it much more enjoyable to zip line backwards 150ft into the largest man made lake east of the Mississippi River. The part of the lake that you see in the picture is lightly chlorinated and felt great on such a hot day! The other part of the lake, not pictured, is just a normal lake with turtles, fish, and other aquatic life.
The next adventure was the Helicopter “Helo” Dunker. This thing is nuts! It’s a large, metal cylinder that fits 6 adults in it sitting on benches. This mimics the interior of a military “chopper”. There are two seats in the front that are front facing for the pilot and co-pilot. There are two bench seats facing each other in the back with room for four adults total. What you can’t see is that the floor, front, and rear of the Dunker are made out metal mesh…all the better to let water in. Gallons and gallons of water are let in. Let me rephrase that, gallons and gallons of water RUSH in around your feet. However, as you can see, we all had helmets and life jackets on. I HATE wearing life jackets, but it was imperative that we all wore them because when that water starts rushing in, your first instinct is to panic. Once you start to float, however, you realize that you are having a great time. Well, we were having a great time until one of us died, others had limbs amputated in the crash, another decided upon crashing that he hated water, and another teammate decided they were Tom Cruise. You get to run scenarios at Aviation Camp. What would it really be like to have to think under that kind of pressure in that kind of emergency scenario. It’s all very safe and highly simulated, but the point is made. It was more fun than should be had by a group of adults who had only known each other for about 4 hours at that point.
Our last adventure for our day was the one that all of us were super excited about! We got to fly F-18 Super Hornet flight simulators.This went beyond a video screen and joystick. This was a full mock up of the dials, buttons, switches, and feel of a fighter jet. We all got to practice taking off and landing. Then, we got our ammunition, and we tried to shoot each other down. Yeah, that screen on the bottom right. That’s what happens when you get shot down. Looks like it was a good thing I didn’t become a pilot.
I would highly recommend taking you, your family, or a group of friends to experience Space Camp or Aviation Camp. Both of these camps have adult and family camps to choose from. Of course, kids can choose between Space Camp, Aviation Camp, and Robotics Camp. All of the camps are held on the U.S. Space and Rocket Center’s main campus in Huntsville, AL. You will have fun, learn great and amazing things, and meet amazing people while you are there. Have a BLAST!
Have you ever gone into something not exactly sure what you are in for? Yeah, that was me this weekend for the Year of Aviation #SCTweetUP. A TweetUp is when a group of people on social media meet in real life to share some sort of experience. The Space Camp TweetUp is an annual event, with different themes each year, where social media using people get together in Huntsville, AL on the Space Camp campus to get excited about the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, Space Camp, and their programs and exhibits. This year is the Year of Aviation for the Rocket Center and Space Camp, so the #SCTweetUp was all about learning about what it’s like to be in Aviation Challenge camp. I learned so much during such a short amount of time, and wow, did I have a lot of fun!
Being a Geek, sometimes, who am I kidding, often, I am awkward in a crowd of people I don’t know. I also dress like I’m a 14 year old boy more often than not, so that generally doesn’t go over too well. Going into a new group, I never know what to expect, but the amazing thing about social media is meeting and getting to know people before you meet them face to face. When I got the email letting me know that I had been selected for the 2014 Space Camp TweetUp, I immediately went online to see who else would be joining me in Huntsville. After a few days, there was a Facebook group set up, and we started getting to know each other and planning to hang out after our day of adventure. It definitely made the fun start even before I left Atlanta.
The morning of the TweetUp, I wanted to get there to look around a little early. I have never been to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, and that’s where all Space Camp activities, including ours, are held. Many more planes like this amazing one greeted me as I walked onto the Aviation Challenge campus, and I knew this was going to be a great day!
We had introductions to each other, our organizers, Charity and Trevor, and our team leaders, Clover and Wi-fi. Our team, the Jolly Tweeters, ended up being like the Breakfast Club…the Geek (me), the Weather-spotter, the Triathlete, the DJ, the Photographer, the TV Anchor, the Quiet One, the Intern, the Non-Twitter-er, the Retiree, and the Pixel Creator. We all had two things in common; we all love Space, and we were all there to have fun!
We started our day with a tour of some of the planes on the campus. We got to stand on the the wing of an F4 Phantom. It is quite a bit sturdier than most people imagine. It was able to support our whole team standing on just the wing. We were able to hear from Gail Williams, one of the former pilots and current restorers of the Lamplighter 342 helicopter that is currently on the Aviation Challenge campus. He and his fellow restorers have hand re-painted the helicopter with the original paint from the original manufacturer. Gail has also hand curved Lexan with a heat gun to replace the windows (one shown in the pic below) in the Lamplighter. It’s a true project of love and respect with the formers pilots and this aircraft. Gail was incredibly generous to let us all climb up into the helicopter to press buttons, pedals, and flip switches. It was a lot of fun!
Then we heard from my new hero, Serena Aunon. I’m not sure that it’s really fair that the first astronaut that I ever meet is Serena. She’s an engineer, physician, and astronaut. She was so great to answer all of our questions. As you can imagine, she is a Women in STEM champion, and I asked her what her advice was for young girls wanting to get into STEM fields. She said that parents should expose their littles early and often to STEM fields in the form of museums and camps, particularly with hands on activities.
I also asked her about what she would say to university aged female students wanting to give up STEM fields as the classes become increasingly difficult. She told us the story of her father insisting that she re-take Calculus as a freshman even though she took it and did well in it during her Senior year in high school. She said that, though it frustrated her then, it was some of the best advice she ever got. It gave her a very solid and strong foundation in math which she needed to get through her electrical engineering degree. She also told us that she utilized tutors and other resources while she was in college. Serena also told us about the nutrition and exercise regimens on the International Space Station. She also let us know that when the ISS astronauts phone their families or NASA back here on Earth, the caller ID registers with a Huntsville phone number. Serena also showed us samples of some of the kinds of food that the astronauts eat on the ISS. All of the food is labeled in both English and Russian. Who knew the most coveted food on the ISS is…wait for it…tortillas and hot sauce? After meeting Serena, we all hung out and ate lunch. We already had so much fun, and the day was only half way done. Make sure to read the next post about our very adventurous afternoon!
Like every other kid in the world, I always wanted to be an astronaut. At least, I thought that was a real possibility when I was in elementary school. Coincidentally, during that time, the movie Space Camp came out. It was about some teenagers that went to an overnight camp to learn about what it’s like to fly the space shuttle. It’s got some really big teen stars for the time and a very young Leaf (Joaquin) Phoenix. It’s worth a watch on a rainy day.
I didn’t even know a place like Space Camp existed, but I wanted, no needed, to go. I wrote to the camp for more information, and pleaded to my mother to let me go. Back then, it was a lot of money, and we just couldn’t afford it.
The same year that Space Camp came out another little movie came out called Top Gun. Of course, like every other human in existence, it made me want to be a pilot. Then after doing a huge presentation on becoming a Naval aviator, ever the pragmatist, I decided that my lack of perfect vision and lack of desire to go into the military would likely prevent me from ever becoming Maverick.
Flash forward to the advent of social media, and my love of space came alive again. NASA is all over Twitter and Facebook, and not too long ago, Space Camp (the real one, not the movie) popped into my Twitter feed. The Kid has been asking to go to overnight camp for the last year, and next year might be the year for her. As I thought about it, I popped over to the Space Camp website to see if it was even an attainable goal. Boy, was I surprised!
Space Camp has so many more adventures than when I was a kid. It’s located in Huntsville, Alabama connected to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Not only do they still have Space Camp, for kids, adults, families, and educators, they also have an Aviation Challenge Camp (y’all, it’s Top Gun camp) and a Robotics Camp. I was enchanted by all of the possibilities for The Kid, and after looking at the pricing, it’s very reasonable for 5 full days and nights of camp. They also have a camp for homeschooling groups. Gotta love a place that recognizes the homeschool geek contingent.
So, now Space Camp was firmly back on my radar, and I loved seeing the Throwback pictures they would post on social media. So, imagine my surprise when @SpaceCamp on Twitter announced sign ups for their annual Space Camp TweetUp (#SCTweetUp). A TweetUp is a face to face meeting of a group of people connected through Twitter. This year’s TweetUp is to celebrate their #YearofAviation. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to sign up. Only 16 people would be chosen, so I didn’t think there was much of a chance. However, I got an email last week letting me know I was one of the few chosen to attend. This Space Camp TweetUp will allow me to just get a little taste of Space Camp and Top Gun all at the same time! Woot!
It’s now a little more than 36 hours away, and I can’t wait. We will be participating in several of the activities that the Aviation Challenge campers participate in. There will be water rescue activities, aircraft tours, and aircraft simulators. There will be two guest speakers, astronaut Serena Aunon and Gail Williams from the Seasprite Helicopter Restoration Project.
Let me know what questions you want answered, and I will do my best to get them for you. Follow me on Twitter @geekysoutherner for all of the updates, tweets, and pictures on Saturday.