Space Camp launches teen closer to dream

schandler@newsobserver.com July 21, 2013 

For as long as she can remember, Margie Bruff of Clayton has wanted to be an astronaut. She got a taste of that dream earlier this month during six days of Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala.

She earned a full scholarship for the experience with an essay, an original design for a mission patch, and a description of a science experiment she’d recently conducted – testing for germs on the cafeteria tables at her school, Enloe High in Raleigh. (Summary: “It was gross.”)

Once Margie, a rising sophomore, settled in at Space Camp, she had no trouble making friends with her fellow campers, who came from around the country and all over the world.

“We all like space, and there were a lot of people who want to work for NASA,” like she does, she said. “So it was easy.”

The campers sat for informative briefings each day, and then got to work on simulated space missions. The camp has models of an orbiter, mission control center and the International Space Station.

“As a team we were acting out a simulated mission,” Margie said. Scuba gear in a giant pool or harnesses suspended from the ceiling outside the simulators gave campers a taste of microgravity, the reduced pull of the earth astronauts experience when in orbit.

“It actually kind of felt like microgravity, so it was pretty cool,” Margie said of her time in a harness.

Another simulator, the multi-axis trainer, challenges campers to pull a capsule out of a tumble spin as it re-enters earth’s atmosphere.

“They say that it’s impossible to throw up on (the multi-axis trainer), because your stomach fluids settle and it never spins in the same direction twice,” Margie said. “But when you’re watching other people do it, you don’t really believe that.”

Margie can’t remember exactly when or why she set her sights on space; it’s just always been her dream.

“I decided that when I was really young, and I guess I just stuck with it,” she said.

She’s interested in Mars in particular, and watched with great interest when NASA landed its latest rover, Curiosity, last year.

“It’s the next destination for NASA, and it’s interesting to keep up with the news there,” she said.

Margie learned a lot from Space Camp that will help her as she pursues her dream, she said. But she knows there’s a lot of learning left to do. She hopes to study planetary science and aerospace engineering in college, and while she’s waiting, she might try to fit in another summer of Space Camp – this time with an advanced program.

“There’s more missions and more opportunity to learn more,” she said.

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