December 12, 2007 Edition

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This group of Walnut Ridge School students and chaperones attended the U.S. Space Camp at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala. They are (front, from left): John Bland - chaperone, Wayne Wallace, Range Weeks, Alex Long, Jacob Downum and Cody Tribble; (standing): Candace "Roxy" Smith Space Camp team leader, Shantel Butts, Johnna Rogers, Allie Phillips, Sloane Kelley - chaperone, Caroline Kelley, Anna Bland, Renee Bland - chaperone, Marissa Bailey, Brittney Pinkston, Kim Downum - chaperone, Sabrina Knight and Tonda Brand - coordinator of the Gifted, Talented and Creative Program at Walnut Ridge School. Chuck Dunn (not pictured), bus driver, also participated in the program.

WR group completes
mission to Space Camp

John Bland

A group of students from Walnut Ridge Middle School and their chaperones, including this writer, spent Friday through Sunday, Nov. 30 ~ Dec. 2, attending U.S. Space Camp at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala. The students are part of the school's Gifted, Talented and Creative (GTC) Program, coordinated by Tonda Brand.

A variety of programs and camps are offered year-round at the U.S. Space Camp, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary. We were signed up for the two-night, three-day Astrotrek program.

Upon arrival, our group of 13 students and six adults, received wristbands that designated us as official "trainees" and gave us access to camp facilities and the cafeteria.

Next, we were assigned to our bays or rooms in the Habitat, a four-story space-age dorm that gives you the feeling of being in a space station.

We soon met our team leader, Candace "Roxy" Smith, who would spend the weekend guiding us through the program. We each received an Astrotrek Trainee Mission Manuel, filled with facts, history, questions and activity pages to be used throughout our mission.

Astrotrek is a great introduction to the history of space exploration and gives participants a better understanding of what it takes to become an astronaut.

Our program had a good balance of study, hands-on activities, scavenger hunts in the rocket park and extensive museum and opportunities to try out various simulators that re-create the feeling of being in space. Our group saw two IMAX movies, both relating to space and flight.

We learned about monkeynauts Able and Baker, the first monkeys to survive and successfully be recovered after their space launch. Baker lived to an old age at the Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, while Able died in surgery just a few days after the flight.

We learned personal facts about the astronauts that made them seem like regular people. However, we also learned these astronauts are extremely intelligent, well educated, physically fit and brave. Many of them are both pilots and engineers.

As the senior members of our group, Chuck Dunn and I recalled watching the first men land on the moon in 1969. We realized the moon landings were distant history to our students.

As a bonus, Roxy let us watch the movie "Apollo 13," based on the true story of this harrowing mission.

Having just learned about NASA astronauts and missions of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, the "Apollo 13" film had extra meaning. The actual Apollo 16 capsule, similar to Apollo 13, is housed in the museum.

We were told that NASA plans to return to the rocket program after several years of launching shuttles. The next frontier will apparently be a trip to Mars.

While we were at Space Camp, a large group arrived from Costa Rica. Other groups were there from Oxford, Miss., and Atlanta. We were told campers come to the Space Camp from all over the U.S., as well as from other countries. We felt fortunate to be there too.

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