Gearing up in a flight suit inside a bathroom stall at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama may not be the most authentic way to prepare for the perils of space, but it’s the closest chance I’ll ever get to living my dream of becoming a cosmonaut.
And since everyone’s dream is leaving Earth’s atmosphere and exploring, walking around in a blue onesie like you’re part of a cult doesn’t make you feel as stupid as I looked.
I actually found myself getting strangely overinvested in my role as a Capsule Communicator (CAPCOM), making sure our virtual space shuttle completed its mission and landed safely while part of the camp group conducted space missions and flew a mock shuttle.
Mission control was responsible for sifting through binder-filled specs to solve “anomalies” that would sporadically appear on our consoles while guiding the crew.
The camp offers different difficulty levels with more math-involved scenarios for advanced admirers of space, but for a camp group of journalists and bloggers, the lower level, “kid’s” missions suited us perfectly. It may even be a little embarrassing the number of times the camp instructors had to step in with some hints.
I also said “roger that” enough times to be committed to an insane asylum, but it was worth it to bring our crew safely back home.
We were just able to land our shuttle a little sideways on the runway after our low orbit missions were completed. Today we do it again for a Mars simulation.
I’ve also been able to try out some other simulators at the camp. The all-fearing Multi Axis Trainer consists of rotating steel rings produced to train astronauts in case a space capsule spins out of control.
If any of you decide to build one at home, make sure to keep your eyes open or closed while in use. Switching between the two is said to make you feel more disorientated.
Vomiting is actually unlikely to occur on one of these hellish machines since instructors assured me no matter how many times I asked that it doesn’t spin you in the same direction twice to make you dizzy and your stomach stays in the center of gravity the entire time.
I personally felt like my eyes’ blood vessels were going to explode. Unfortunately they didn’t.
And that may have been for the best because my eyeballs were certainly needed to piece together a plastic and cardboard small model rocket. There’s no justifying how many of us were enthused to be sitting down at a cafeteria table fighting over glue to attach parachutes inside our rockets.
I’m still concerned I didn’t line the inside with enough pieces of fire retardant wadding for my parachute to deploy unharmed. Blast off will be Thursday and my team Marshall is hoping to defeat team Kennedy in this disturbingly grotesque space race.
The only really upsetting part of this whole space camp experience is that no astronaut ice cream was located at the camp’s cafeteria. Dippin’ Dots machines are available onsite, which I’m sure is enough for most people, but I still felt silently and utterly destroyed upon this discovery.
While my hopes melted away like the non-freeze-dried ice cream the camp had available, the experience of playing astronaut without any of the bravery or potential risk is an interesting adventure.
And yes, I’m still debating if I should wear my flight suit on the plane ride back to see if it gets me upgraded to first class.
Freelance writer Robert Spallone was sent to adult space camp in Huntsville, Alabama at as part of a trip sponsored by National Geographic on behalf of Darren Aronofsky's new series One Strange Rock and Ron Howard's new season of MARS.