Training Popcorn

Growing up I got the chance to go to Space Camp!!! It was twenty years ago and I was just like all the other kids attending Space Camp; I wanted to be an astronaut. I remember all the fun lectures on overhead projectors, the simulators, and finishing the night at IMAX. We watched Hail Columbia, Destiny in Space, and The Dream is Alive. All three IMAX movies captured the excitement and fascination with human space flight. I remember being amazed by the IMAX projector alone.

The staff training session this month had the potential to be the best ever. We had hundreds of applicants over the fall, and interviewed over 90 of them. We started the first day with 49 new staff members, all very qualified and with lots of kid experience; however, there wasn’t a space geek among them. They didn’t really get the early Space Shuttle program that I got to watch as a child. See, most all the staff we hired were born in the late 80s. This was a little troublesome since this would be a year of conversion: We were attempting to shift our focus away form Apollo history and shuttle simulations to a view of space flight history and lunar missions.

Training chugged along with tests and teach-backs. Some staff dropped while others didn’t make the cut. The level of stress was a little high when we hit the end of our second week. Things would change at the beginning of this week. We would all attend training classes led by Hoot Gibson, Space Shuttle superstar! The youngsters in the training group began to see what the early STS program looked like in the 80s and 90s. Hoot was there at the very beginning of the shuttle program. He was a member of the 1978 astronaut class, he flew the number four chase plane when STS 1 landed at Edwards in 1981 and he flew five times in space.

The ups and downs of training are just like the ups and downs of the shuttle program. With every struggle we learn something valuable. At the beginning of the week the group didn’t understand about the Challenger disaster and only had a few clues about the Columbia disaster. At the end of the week, as we all gathered in IMAX to watch Hail Columbia and The Dream is Alive, it all seemed to make sense.

I can make sense of where I am in the world. I didn’t grow up to be an astronaut, I grew up to be an educator; not in a classroom, but at Space Camp. I get to teach briefings such as LIKES, Service Standards, and others. I get to write tests and work with staff mentors. In this wild and crazy week where news articles reported the President may cut the NASA mission to return to the moon, forty something new Space Camp staff learned and grew as a team. I sent a package of Space Camp wings to an alumnus to fly on her flight aboard STS-131 and maybe, just maybe I will be there for the launch. I enjoy my place in the world.  The best part of working at Space Camp is that I get to watch IMAX movies on Friday afternoons.

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