If you were a child of the '80s and early '90s, chances are you harbored a not-so-secret wish to visit Huntsville, AL. Oh, not because you were some kind of junior foodie out to sample their delicious BBQ, or a history nut looking to revisit the scandalous romance of Henry and Emiline.
No, you wanted to go Space Camp. And just a couple of weeks ago, I - along with a handful of other journalists - got to give my inner child the treat of a lifetime with a brief jaunt to camp and a museum. And after a day of suiting up, getting down, and trying to keep my crew alive in a mock mission, I learned a few life lessons that might just have you survive your own trip to Space Camp.
8. Space Camp: Not Just for Kids Anymore
First, you should know that your childhood Space Camp dreams don't have to stay dead and buried along with "Help Duke defeat Cobra Commander" and "Ask the Go-Bots precisely what their deal is."
Provided you can pony up the cash, Space Camp is open to kids and adults of all ages (one of our counselors told us the oldest visitor was in his '80s). Apparently, it's a favorite place for corporate retreats, when your boss absolutely, positively has to measure your leadership potential by the way you manage a fake extra orbital mission.
But besides proving that Johnson doesn't have it because he panicked during the 1/16th gravity walk, Space Camp also offers a variety of programs for kids ages 9 to high school years. One of the standouts, SCI-VIS, offers the wonder of space exploration for visually impaired kids.
Ha, didn't think I was going to start with the serious and sincere stuff, did you? Don't worry; it gets crazy quickly.
7. You Might Never Stop Wearing Your Flight Suit
Look, I'm not going to sit here in my flight suit and pretend like I'm better than the rest of you out there. Quite the contrary. I'm just like any other person who gets to wear a grown-up onesie in the comfort of their own home, emblazoned with all sorts of NASA badges.
Now, did I go through airport security at Huntsville bellowing "Out of my way, Spaceman Webb must make his Dallas connection?" Well, that's really not for me (or the Huntsville PD) to say pending the final investigation.
6. Space Has Weird Ways of Trying to Kill You
Last year, astronaut Luca Parmitano almost drowned. Which wouldn't be so weird except he was in a space suit at the time, orbiting the planet. You can follow along with the video up above, but the counselors at Space Camp, when you can corner them for a minute, are happy to elaborate on some of the many, many ways you can eat it among the stars.
If it's not trying to freeze you or suffocate you, now the final frontier is trying to drown you?
In truth, the counselors try to keep things light and were likely playing to our older (and increasingly loud/goofy/reliving-their-childhood group of journalists, but it's a reminder that they're a terrific resource for all kinds of history and factoids about space exploration and the many, many strange ways that it can go wrong (NASA calls these situations "anomalies").
On the ground, Space Camp is pretty safe and smooth sailing (although it can be tense - more on that later). Still, what is the puking-while-out-in-public situation like?
5. You're Probably Not Going to Puke as Often as You'd Expect
I'm glad you asked, dear reader. Now you would think being strapped to a gyroscope and spun around for three minutes to simulate the disorientation of zero gee would lead to a gross trail of astronaut ice cream sprayed this way and that, but among the many not-gross revelations of Space Camp is that getting in the Chair of Woe (my name for it), is a relatively sedate affair.
Per our counselor, it's all a matter of keeping your head forward and your eyes open. With your stomach acting as your center of gravity, you won't lose your lunch in front of your friends, colleagues, and a group of 7th graders.
The same goes for the 1/16th gravity chair (simulating the pull of gravity on the moon), and the scuba experience (this one's for older campers and it's great): you're allowed to get up to some exciting stuff without the threat of staining your flight suit.