Episode 29: That Time I Went To Space Camp

365 Dates of Travel Podcast

Transcript for Episode 29: That Time I Went To Space Camp

Hello and welcome to this week’s podcast. This week we’re still in the September chapter of the book 365 Dates of Travel: The SECOND Six Months. And I am going to be reading three stories directly from the book. Last week you had some more background, and this week I’m reading word for word from the September chapter. 

The first story is when I’m on my way to Las Vegas, and a few little things that went wrong along the way. But I will let the story tell it in its own words. 

8th September (2017) Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

I got my trip disaster out of the way early. I handed over my paperwork at the check-in counter. She said, “You don’t have a visa.”

“Yes, I do. I gave it to you.” I had a printed copy of my ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) visa waiver with my passport.

“This does not match your passport. I can’t check you in.”

I had mistyped my passport number, voiding my ESTA. Thankfully, the Flight Centre kiosk could arrange a new one, for a fee, once open. I found a line forming and growing. Last minute ESTAs was big business. The visa cost $17.55 and Flight Centre charged $55 for their speedy service.

I got the ESTA, rejoined the queue, and made the flight.

Qantas’ flight QF93 to Los Angeles allows you to arrive before you departed. I love that. I arrived at 6:35 am; through the automatic kiosks at 6:55 am; and my passport stamped and luggage collected by 7:30 am. I reached the Delta Terminal at 8:00 am.

However, a miscommunication along the way meant I bypassed the domestic check-in area, arriving airside with my check-in bag. At first I didn’t realise what had happened. Two security personnel called me over, saying their way was quicker. The next thing I knew, shops and cafes surrounded me with no way back.

They opened my big bag, which held liquids over 100 millilitres and scissors. Why did they let me through? The whole situation still confuses me, to be honest.

The normal process fills in time and I wanted to ask if I had lounge access. I had a first-class ticket for my domestic flight, but was unsure if it came with lounge privileges.

As first class entitled me to complimentary checked baggage, it could check it at the gate. However, I’d have to wrangle my luggage until the gate opened in three hours’ time. I bought a banana and a bottle of water which allowed me to ask for a cup of hot water too (free). I made a cup of tea to commiserate my mishaps.

A storm in my destination of Las Vegas closed the airport for three hours. My flight became delayed, but after we’d boarded. It didn’t bother me as I got longer to enjoy first class with free unlimited drinks and snacks. There were twelve passengers in first class with our own flight attendant. The narrow plane had a 1:2 seat arrangement giving me a window seat without a neighbour. I enjoyed the scenery once we flew. I saw Los Angeles’s beaches, the Hollywood sign, then mountains and desert, and fluffy clouds.

I caught a SuperShuttle to my hotel and the late arrival meant check in already open. Caesars Palace was a dream come true. I lived out my ancient Roman fantasies here. The building, the lobby, the decor. Roman heaven. A tacky, but oh so wonderful, treat for myself and I planned to savour every minute.

My pool view room sat on the nineteenth floor of the Palace Tower. Incredible lightning strikes, remnants from the earlier storm, were visible from my window. I deliberated for ages over which tower to stay in. I was ecstatic with my decision.

The massive room included a lounge area with an L-shaped couch next to the king-size bed. Tinted windows stretched from floor to ceiling. There were no signs of the opposite tower block’s occupants. From this, I inferred they could not see me.

The bathroom was divine, with a bathtub reminiscent of ancient Rome in tiles and decor. My Roman dreams realised.

I grabbed a take-away meal from the food court. I ate looking out the window at the lights, the traffic and the lightning. Perfect!

I could have slept at 5:00 pm but pushed myself to stay awake and forfeited any hope of seeing the Las Vegas lights this first night. I revelled in the luxurious setting and stunning views as the day turned from day to twilight to night. Exhaustion took over at 8:00 pm.

***

This next date is from 1999. And wow, it was such a fun little trip. A whole week of living out my astronaut dreams. As you know, I have mentioned many times that I wanted to be an astronaut. And I finally got to live out those dreams by attending adult Space Camp for a week in Alabama. 

16th September (1999) Space Camp, Huntsville, Alabama, USA

It thrilled me to be appointed Commander for the Extended Duration Mission (EDM). The earlier missions were one hour. The EDM would be six hours. I can’t remember how I became Commander, but my diary explains:

Us Pilots had a bit of trouble, but I managed to get what I wanted and to be with Buzz and Jackie, so that was great. Eric and Heather got upset, but you know, I didn’t hear him call out or stand up for himself. I was happy. I’m so glad I got to swap to Pilot [Track], though. Being in Payload Specialist [Track] could have really sucked. There was enough exciting stuff to take away the sting of not being able to scuba. Next time it will be even better doing everything.

I don’t often assert myself, but doing so resulted in the coveted role.

We had a traditional astronaut launch day breakfaststeak and eggs.

Breakfast was the first time we saw our team patch design as icing on a cake. We had a team photo with the cake. Jackie and I are front and centre. We said thank you to our team members for their impressive design.

I need to explain a few things so you understand the following diary entry. One of the Camp Counsellors plays the role of “ghost” throughout the EDM. They whisper or hand notes to individuals, with instructions. We have to figure out the problem and fix it. And tunnels link the orbiter and the Space Station, which you crawl through from one to the other, as in pretend air locks.

The EDM was chaotic and fun, fun, fun, fun. It was a madhouse. We ended up with the best group ever. Me as Commander, Ron (Buzz) as Pilot, Mission Specialists—Jackie and Robert, and Payload—Ron B. and Debbie. It all worked brilliantly, and we got along so well. It couldn’t have been a better team if I’d got to choose it all myself.

We started out in the Space Station, which I thought would be boring but was absolutely hilarious. It was a laugh a second. We had solar flares and had to evacuate to the module. Then on the way back Ron B [not Buzz] has an epileptic fit and Ron [Buzz] had a broken arm and we lost oxygen and we all started fainting and left only Ron B to save us all. Buzz was last to go, leaving Ron behind, so he was getting us all as close to the oxygen tank as possible by dragging us across the floor by our feet. Robert also had a psychotic episode, which ended up having Ron B riding Robert like a bull to get him tranquillised. It was so funny. I’ve got a photo of that one. We had a leak at the same time to find. It was SO MUCH FUN!!!! I can’t stress that enough. Then we all finished our experiments. Ours was cooking with chemistry and boy did it taste good. Really sweet, so yummy. Jackie’s experiment was making crystals, and that was interesting, too. They had mixed the chemicals before the solar flares made us retreat to the escape module. They had started to form and looked cool before we left, but when we came back in, they had grown even more and looked great. I didn’t get to see them under the microscope, though. The other experiment was called ooblek and I don’t know what it was, but would change instantly from solid to squish-able. I can’t explain it very well. It was almost sad when the orbiter docked and it was time to change over. I could have been happy in the Space Station the whole time. Though I loved being Commander. Pushing all those buttons was a dream of a lifetime. Remember, I always used to try to make my own buttons so I could press them? But they never worked that well.

With the new team arriving at the Space Station, we took over the orbiter. Ron had made plans and decorated the cockpit with signs. Besides CAPCOM, there is a video communication link to Mission Control. It was picture only, so Ron made signs to communicate without sound. His contribution added a fantastic layer to the experience.

We had two miniature vodka bottles strapped to the control panels with a sign saying “Emergency Power”. We had name tags on each of our chairs. Ron also made one that said “I’m really in charge” to put behind his chair, but one of my kind Mission Specialists put the sign where it belonged behind my chair. We had loads of other signs on hand ready to hold up in front of the camera like, “You want me to do what?” and “Of course we’re lost. We’ve been upside down for the last hour.”

Another sign said the mission was cancelled due to a hurricane and a panic button drawn and labelled on the central console.

It was great fun with Ron and great to push all the buttons. They’re hard to find because so many of them, left, right, front, behind and overhead. The overhead ones were the hardest as hard to reach and my headsets got in the way.

Anyway, we had a lot of anomalies of course from total power failure and trying to find (all 6) one button to go from AC to DC power, overflowing waste management system with silly string and toilet paper being thrown all over the shuttle. A fire on the mid-deck which made us cough and raise our temperature and lower oxygen levels. Then a Payload Specialist broke her spine while putting fire out, a pilot with a psychotic episode, not allowing me to use his panel while in the middle of an important procedure and he fainted from smoke inhalation, etc. It was great. I didn’t want it to end. I went with expectations of great fun and that was all I had. My dreams were fulfilled.

After the mission debrief, which involved cake and discussing our escapades, we fired our rockets. Ours wasn’t a champion. We fired it twice. On its first attempt, two engines ignited while two failed, causing it to ascend then veer to the side. The second time it flew up, but not high. I thought it was fabulous, but it disappointed Lisa. I was still on a high from the EDM, heightening my reactions.

The exhilaration of igniting each one and observing their ascent or failure was thrilling. One almost started a fire. One spiralled all the way while another soared upwards. Rockets often land in the perimeter trees. As the sun shone, the trees glistened like Christmas.

After dinner, we had the Space Bowl; a space themed Jeopardy. Everyone tried to get out of it, but they made us play. Three teams ended with similar scores, around $1700. Everyone bet the full amount on the final question and as no one got it correct, everyone lost.

Poor Lisa discovered her camera had not been working this whole time, so we headed to the museum and training floor to retake photos. At least she recognised the problem in time to get replacements.

We had a night telescope viewing seeing the moon craters and watched the moon move into view through the scope as it traversed the sky. It made me want to buy a telescope. One day.

We continued the night on the museum simulators. I’m embarrassed to say I never landed the orbiter. Such a cool perk to have the museum as our personal playground. You’d think they’d lock it tight after hours, but no.

***

This last date is all about how I got to Ireland and my first day in Ireland itself. 

23rd September (1996) Waterford, Ireland

I had left Denmark, ecstatically secured a nanny position in London with five-month-old triplets starting in two weeks’ time, then headed to Ireland.

The overnight bus and ferry combination left at 8:00 pm last evening, arriving in Dublin at 8:00 am this morning. A double seat to myself on the bus portion allowed enough sleep. I missed Denmark and hoped seeing an Irish friend who I met in Denmark would help ease my angst. I rang the Limerick phone number to be told she’d moved to Cork. She was out when I rang the new number.

I continued with my planned itinerary, buying a bus ticket to Waterford at 9:00 am arriving at 12:00 pm. It was cheaper than I’d expected, which made me happy. Dublin didn’t impress me, though to be fair, I’d only seen the bus station.

So far seems to be quite dirty and rundown. There’s litter everywhere. Houses need painting or cleaning. It’s all very dull and droll.

On arrival in Waterford, I walked to my chosen hostel across the river and along the bank. The wonderfully named Viking House sat in the old city centre surrounded by history, including the original Viking city walls built in 1000 CE (Common Era). A bargain at eight Irish pounds per night.

The hostel is great. Very clean, well equipped, friendly staff, loads of information, bus tickets available etc. It’s just a little too big for mine but very similar in facilities.

I had been designing the perfect hostel in my head throughout my travels with plans to open a hostel in Sydney for the 2000 Olympics. That never happened.

I couldn’t access my room until 3:00 pm, so proceeded to the Waterford Crystal Factory after storing my bags.

I enjoyed the factory tour. We viewed the full cycle from blowing the molten crystal mix to cutting and sculpting the designs. I loved the magnificent sparkling crystal, so I had to buy a souvenir. I’d always desired a fancy perfume atomiser. So why not one from Waterford Crystal? I treated myself by spending £41.

I have the atomiser, though unsure if it’s ever housed perfume. As a dust-able souvenir, it’s in a cupboard.

***

Well, that’s it for this week. I hope you found something interesting, something to make you smile or laugh at. As you know, that’s what I like to do for you. 

Next week. We will be talking about stories behind the travel of the October chapter. Don’t forget, you can see photos from all my travels on my website. And that’s franheapwriter.com. You can go to the photos tab and scroll down to the particular month that you want. So if you wanted to see today’s, you can go to the September page and you’ll see photos from all the stories that are in the book that I’ve read today and talked about last week. There’s all sorts of other things on the website as well, while you’re there. 

Thank you very much for listening. And until next week, I wish for you an interesting day.

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