By Kate Conger
By Brian Rinker
By Rachel Swan
By Anna Pulley
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Erin Sherbert
By Rachel Swan
"What are you wearing?!" asks the woman at the Space Camp check-in desk.
"It's a jumpsuit," I explain. "It gives me more space-mobility." Shifting from foot to foot, I demonstrate my space-mobility theory.
My Space Camp team leader, or commander, goes by the name of Roman; he's a happy man in a large "Space Camp" sweat shirt. Roman explains that he's a Space Camp leader for at least another six months; for some reason, he can't join the Los Angeles Police Department until then.
"Have you ever thought about joining the Intergalactic Police Force?" I suggest, thinking he'd make an excellent second lieutenant in my squadron. The question draws big Space Camp laughs. I elaborate further: "No, really, it might help with your EVA."
"My what?" Roman asks.
"EVA: extra-vehicular activity," I clarify with a smug laugh.
"Aah," is his reply. Apparently he hasn't memorized the NASA handbook. Maybe he wouldn't make a good second lieutenant after all.
"What are you wearing?" Roman asks after a moment of silence.
"It's a space-mobility suit," I explain.
Our purpose tonight is to master a few space simulators. The first is called the Five Degrees of Freedom simulator. It's an apparatus that floats on air and pivots on all axes, simulating what it would be like to fix a satellite station in the weightlessness of space.
"Who wants to try it first?" asks Roman.
"I will, sir!" I answer, giving my commander a respectful salute and butting in line in front of all the children and paunchy dads.
I'm strapped into something that looks like a high-tech, futuristic highchair. I feel like a big baby of tomorrow. I proceed to simulate raising a solar panel. It raises. Mission complete. So far, I'd have to say, space is kind of easy. I salute my fellow astronauts.
"I'm getting some LOS," I say.
"What?!" says Roman.
"Oh, PLEASE!" I remark indignantly. Doesn't he know that means Loss of Signal? Doesn't he understand my little space joke, from my sophisticated, intergalactic sense of space humor?
It's the next cadet's turn. He is 9 years old. He has trouble raising the solar panel. He is going ATO (Abort to Orbit). This is uncalled for. There's no room for the weak in my space squadron, and I'm the first to tell him so.
"Well, thank you very much! If this were a real mission, we'd all be dead!" I inform the 9-year-old. The cadet's mom, or mom-cadet, gives me a nasty look. But hey, if he can't take the pressure, he's not space material. One day she'll thank me for my stern approach to space preparation. Especially when we're blowing the antennas off of alien badasses!
We next go to the cockpit of the space shuttle. I immediately take position in the commander's chair. The screen has a view of the orbiting Earth. I put on the headset and start pushing all the buttons while making rocket noises. One of the paunchy dads makes the obvious joke:
"Houston, we have a problem!"
"Ha ha ha ha," everyone laughs.
"Shut up," I say under my breath. "Shut the hell up!"
The 9-year-old cadet wants to try out my commander's chair.
"GET LOST, KID!" I say.
He whimpers away. (Commander's note: Court-martial the little bastard!)
The headset is hooked to a mock Mission Control. I use this opportunity to be witty:
"Luke, use the force!"
"Lock phasers on target."
The appreciation of my space humor is limited.
"Please don't push all the buttons," pipes in Roman.
The coolest thing at Space Camp is the Zero-G Wall. It simulates weightlessness in space. A specially designed swivel chair is attached to suspension ropes to create the anti-gravity effect, making it feel like the chair can float alongside a wall.
Our mission is to float to the top of the wall, maneuvering side to side while simulating exercises for constructing a space station. Space isn't all about floating around, you know; there's also responsibility! My thoughts turn to how great it would be to have one of these at home, to help with simulating "space sex."
Again butting in line to be the first to test Zero-G out, I bend my knees, jump, and soar to the top of the wall, like a normal spaceman floating around a space wall. This exercise will come in handy for hand-to-hand alien space combat. I refuse to come down from the wall, so my fellow astronauts must watch me with space envy.
Our last exercise is the Multi-Axis Trainer. It was built for the early Mercury space program and simulates not only a space capsule spinning out of control, but also what it's like to vomit in space. I'm strapped into a chair spinning on three axes. I'm spinning like a motherfuck! Roman is finally getting his revenge on me, opening this baby up.
"ATO!" I scream for my safe word. (Doesn't Roman know this means Abort to Orbit?!)
I'm going to throw up space food. If this is a daily part of space travel, then space travel is certainly not for me!
"Abort mission! Abort mission!" I scream. The Multi-Axis Trainer comes to a halt. Fuck the aliens. I'm dizzy as hell; I'll let someone else save the planet. I'm going to forfeit my potential alien anal-probe and remain here on Earth. We humans should just try to get along with the extraterrestrials, as best we can. I think the poem I wrote after my Space Camp sojourn best sums up my feelings: