Walking on the moon is hard.
Only 12 men have done it. Yet every year, kids from the Triangle and around the world who dream of someday repeating that feat learn the same tricks to low-gravity strolling that 12 Apollo astronauts were taught: They can bunny-hop, sidestep or zig-zag.
Those fun facts and many more emerge at Space Camp USA, in Huntsville, Ala., which is celebrating its 30th anniversary. Its one of the few places where mere Earthlings can find out how astronauts train and live in space. The camps mission is to inspire a love of science and technology by immersing children in fun, hands-on activities focused on space, aviation and the technologies that make both possible, such as robotics.
The signature adventure at Space Camp shown in the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie A Smile as Big as the Moon is a weeklong, residential program held in the summer when trainees try out a variety of authentic simulators like those used by NASA. Other programs run year-round, however, attracting participants from around the world, more than 600,000 of them so far.
On the Multi-Axis Trainer once used by Mercury astronauts like John Glenn, students spin 360 degrees in multiple directions to adapt to the disorientation a person might feel tumbling through space. In the one-sixth gravity chair Apollo astronauts used to train, students discover how hard it is to walk on the moon where gravity is one-sixth that on Earth as they try to walk while suspended from the ceiling, toes barely touching the floor. This is where future astronauts get their opportunity to become moon walkers.
Theres this (ride) called Space Shot, where it takes you up really high and then just drops you, said Isabel Regan, 12, of Raleigh, who attended space camp with Raleighs Magellan Charter School last year. I liked the simulations because they were fun, and I also enjoy knowing what it feels like to actually be doing it to actually feel like youre an astronaut.
The authenticity continues into the night, when campers bunk in habitats that look like mini-space stations on Earth.
When theyre not on the simulators, kids have a good chance of meeting a real astronaut. And since space camp is at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, the worlds largest space museum and Alabamas top tourist attraction, kids can see historic artifacts such as the massive Saturn V rocket, one of only three existing examples of the most powerful rocket ever built.
The week culminates in the next-best thing to outer space, simulated missions run by the trainees themselves, who work together on everything from launch to mission to landing. In these missions, kids take on all the roles involved in space exploration, from mission control to pilots and commanders to mission specialists, complete with spacewalks, which are replicated using harnesses and spacesuits.
For most of its 30 years, the camp primarily simulated space shuttle missions. In full-size shuttle replicas, kids experience missions that simulate docking at the International Space Station or going on repair trips to fix a satellite or the Hubble Space Telescope.
While kids still fly mock-shuttle missions, this year Space Camp has added new missions to Mars and the moon. These new missions use a more futuristic spaceship that replicates the capsule designs NASA and companies like SpaceX plan to use in future flights beyond low Earth orbit. Future plans call for simulations of moon colonies, as well as landings on Mars and asteroids.
Campers need not have a burning desire to be an astronaut to have fun and learn, said Space Camp spokeswoman Amee Halbach.
Isabel said she knew little about space and had little interest in the subject before her three-day field trip last year.
Not everyone who goes through space camp will become an astronaut thats simple math at work but Space Camps own studies have shown that its graduates show a greater interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and actually take more math and science classes once they return home.
Favorite field trip
The entire sixth grade at Magellan went on last years trip, Isabel said, and they all agreed it was their favorite field trip of the year.
I was surprised at how much fun it was, she said. I thought it would just be talking most of the time, but they have so many activities, and we do so many simulations that it was really cool to learn and made me a lot more interested (in space).
Adults of all ages can attend on their own or through parent-child camps. Many adult attendees are teachers, who take what they learn about rockets and robots back to their classrooms.
Participants can choose the traditional space camp, or a combination space camp and robotics track, where they build competition robots using Legos. Kids who choose Aviation Challenge undergo similar training as fighter jet pilots.
Kids who are really interested can return for a more advanced Space Academy. Older trainees in the more advanced tracks go on longer, more complicated missions and scuba dive in the Underwater Astronaut Trainer.
The camp emphasizes that space exploration did not end with the space shuttle program. Just because NASA astronauts now use the Russian Soyuz capsule to reach the International Space Station doesnt mean American children cant still become astronauts.
Over the next decade, NASA plans to move beyond the low Earth orbit capabilities of the space shuttle and use its new Space Launch System and Orion capsule to orbit the moon and perhaps land on the lunar surface as it did during the Apollo days.
When that happens, a generation of kids will know what to do.
Bunny hop. Sidestep. Zig-zag.