15th September (1999) Space Camp, Huntsville, Alabama, USA

This week: Fran’s travels at Space Camp, Huntsville, Alabama, USA. This is one day out of five days at an Adult Advanced Space Academy. It was so much fun I went back the following year!

15th September (1999) Space Camp, Huntsville, Alabama, USA

Today was Mission day. 

Alpha Mission was in the Space Station. I was Flight Operator 2, and I found Flight Operator 1 bossy and overbearing. We did not finish any of our experiments. There was a spinning chair experiment which we started, but she felt dizzy after the first round, so no longer wanted to continue. We moved on to a robotics experiment, but ran out of time. So we failed, and I put the blame on lack of teamwork. We were not a good combination.

Bravo Mission was in Mission Control. My assigned role was OTC/CAPCOM. CAPCOM comes from the early flights when astronauts flew in capsules rather than shuttles. CAP is short for capsule, and COM short for communications. So CAPCOM is the only one in Mission Control that talks directly with those in the shuttle, usually the Commander. I had to relay information back and forth and sort out problems. My impressions at the time: It was kind of cool except I couldn’t work out how to tell which screen I was supposed to be in on the computer, but mostly the information was given to me and I was like a messenger. I still have a problem being on the correct screen on my work computer.

Charlie Mission was the one I was most looking forward to in the shuttle. I never got tired of entering, exploring and playing inside the shuttle mockup. Buttons and more buttons. It was switch heaven. You had procedure books that dictated the sequence of which buttons to press and when. You followed instructions and pressed buttons. To be technical, you would enter commands into the command line interface, or computer. The Pilot and Commander each had a book, and they had velcro on them to be authentic so you could attach them to the panels, preventing them from flying around once in zero gravity. Inside, the procedures had three columns. The first column would show who would do it, such a P for Pilot, C for Commander or MS for Mission Specialist. The next column would tell you what button or switch to press, for example O8, C3 or L4. O was for overhead, C for centre console and L for left, which would be me. There was R for right, which would be on the Pilot’s side. The number was which button or switch on that panel that needed to move. The last column indicated what you needed to do with that said switch such as on, arm, or press. If it was computer related, you would press the button then press execute, ‘Item 15 execute’.

By this time of the camp, I had the nickname of Scooby, as in Scooby Doo, which has been a theme in my life thanks to my giggle. I embraced it. I bought a name tag for my flight suit and it says Scooby, not Fran. So we had Commander Scooby and Pilot Buzz Lightyear with a serious CAPCOM, as in my earlier Flight Operator foe. She was an excellent CAPCOM, but I don’t think she would say the same about me and Buzz. I think she wished we had been more serious. We were having fun.

With each mission only being an hour, we had time for other sessions in-between. We had a rocket making session where we split into groups of four. I was with Jackie, Lisa and Elaine. The entry in my diary about this made me laugh, especially the last sentence. Lisa had made hundreds of rockets as a child, so knew how to do it and, of course, Jackie, being an engineer, also knew how to do it. Elaine and I opened packages and squeezed out the glue. We would fire it later in the week. 

We viewed the sun during a telescope day session. I’d never thought about that as being something to do, but it is as interesting as looking at the planets close up at night.

After dinner, we were on the training room floor trying out the simulators.

The Multi-Axis Trainer (MAT) was designed and used for the Mercury program that went to the moon. It comprises three concentric rings with a chair in the middle. You are strapped in, holding on for dear life, and it spins you around in every direction possible and the three rings all go their own way. It may not be good if you are prone to motion sickness. Though, they say it’s designed to not bring on nausea. Whatever, I survived. I was a little disorientated though, which is what it is designed to do. I must have been too short, as was the only one who used the children’s MAT. Jackie came with me armed with my camera. I’m grateful that she took loads of photos for me.

There was also the 1/6 chair to simulate the lower gravity environment of the moon. It helps you to feel what it would be like to walk on the moon. I was not good at this. You more bounce around as have become lighter. There is a red line marked on the floor which you are supposed to follow. I believe I went up more than I went forward to start with. Then you try to go sidewards which was easier. Someone has taken a photo of me doing this and I have a very serious look on my face. I was concentrating very hard on how I was moving. At the end, you get a chance for free movement. You can do whatever you like. I did a big starfish with my eyes popping out of my head. This was an ‘Infinity and beyond’ impression of Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story. I was enjoying myself.

After the simulators, our structured day was finished. Jackie and I dressed up in the fake space suits and asked if we could take them to the museum to get some photos in the Apollo capsule. They gave us permission and Buzz came with us as our photographer. It was hard to manoeuvre in our suits and also extremely hot. We ended up going over the entire complex in these suits during our photo session. I’m sure we were not supposed to go outside in the suits, but we did. And seeing as we already had climbed on the lunar module, we did it again, but with our suits on. We replicated setting foot on the moon with Jackie on the ground and myself on the ladder coming out from the Lunar Module. But we repeated this with Jackie on the ladder and me on the ground, so we both had the chance to be ‘first on the moon’. Then we did a high five for making it to the moon and we posed with the American flag. Elsewhere in the museum, we make it look like we are on a space walk outside the Space Shuttle. It was the ultimate game of dress-ups. It was a definite highlight. And the photos are awesome. 

Space Camp, Huntsville, Alabama
Space walk

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top