A Remarkable Experience at the Advanced Space Academy

By Charlotte Raymond ’23

A couple of summers ago, I was faced with the annual question of “what programs would you like to do next summer?” I, to be honest, had barely a sliver of an idea about how to answer that question. 

I knew that the program should be academic but preferably have some sort of physical element. These criteria, as well as an interest in space, led me to NASA’s Advanced Space Academy (Space Camp for older kids). From the website, I understood that I would be experiencing the simulators and mechanisms similar to those used to train astronauts for space travel. I did not know much else, other than the program’s reputation. Putting a decent amount of trust into NASA and hoping that the Advanced Academy would not end up being a space-themed kids camp, I registered for the following summer. Back then, I did not expect my experience to be nearly as amazing as it was.

Upon arrival to the facility in Huntsville, Alabama, I was checked in and brought to HAB 1 (camper bunks) to leave my luggage. I quickly became acquainted with the twelve-person team that I would be spending the next week with. I was delighted to learn that my teammates came from everywhere and anywhere, with trainees from Washington, New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., New Jersey, and even France. 

Less than an hour later, the activities began at full force. We attended multiple presentations, began designing our model rockets, and learned the basics of what would become my favorite part of camp: the missions. 

Advanced Academy trainees partake in two one-hour missions and one final three-hour mission. For these missions, the team agrees on individual roles and divide between up to three locations. For our final mission, the simulator included an orbiter, a lander, and mission control. Each of these locations was covered in buttons, switches, and/or computers (for mission control). Every single switch, button, and computer click within the simulator is connected to a computer that influences the events of the mission, especially anomalies. Anomalies can be anything from the orbiter rapidly descending out of orbit to an impromptu Russian insurrection within mission control. When anomalies occur, the team must work together to quickly solve the problem to prevent the mission’s failure. My team, Team Marineris, was exceptionally good at fulfilling our roles with limited mistakes and solving anomalies effectively. This, along with our successes in our other activities, led to us winning the Commander’s Cup at the end of the week. 

Of course, five hours of missions do not fill six 8 AM to 10 PM camp days. Other notable activities we partook in include: building model rockets containing a payload capsule designed to protect an “eggonaut” from possible extreme fall damage, constructing cardboard rovers to transport rock samples, assembling heat shields out of household items to protect an “eggonaut” from a 3000-degree Fahrenheit blowtorch, defeating enemy jets in a flight simulator, assembling a satellite out of pipes while SCUBA diving, experiencing the Multi-Axis Trainer and the 1/6 Gravity Chair, and belaying our teammates up a wall to a zipline. We were also provided with insightful presentations on aerodynamics, human health in microgravity, basic astronomy, the electromagnetic spectrum. We even had the honor of attending a presentation from astronaut “Hoot” Gibson, the astronaut credited with the “handshake that ended the Cold War.” Overall, every single day was packed with incredible experiences that surpassed all of my expectations.

I found myself capable of surpassing challenges that I did not expect to be entirely capable of. The daily tiny feats of creating an effective capsule for the “eggonaut”, directing successful EVAs, breaking the record for most weight gathered by the rovers, shooting down a challenging enemy’s plane, scoring baskets with a bowling ball twenty feet deep, executing one of Advanced Academy’s smoothest missions, and completing the job usually performed by an entire roomful of people in Mission Control, greatly increased my confidence in both myself and my abilities. 

Following the program, I feel my teamwork, leadership, and overall science skills significantly increased. I am more comfortable in my decision to pursue science, and my hope that I might one day become an astronaut seems less outlandish. I still remain in contact with my teammates and doubt that I will ever forget them. The Advanced Space Academy was truly a remarkable experience, and I would strongly recommend it to any individual interested in space, engineering, design, communication, leadership, and everything in between.

My team (Marineris)

The Mach 1 Flight Simulator (FlightSim1)

The Mach 1 Flight Simulator (FlightSim2)

The zipline (zipline)

Mission Control during the final mission (MissionControl1)

Mission Control during the final mission training (MissionControl2)

Mission control during the final mission (MissionControl3)

The ISS Simulator (ISSSim)

The Multi-Axis Trainer (MAT)

Graduation Ceremony (graduation)