Australian Space Camp ambassador: Nathan Washington - part 2

by User Not Found | Sep 30, 2015

Previously, ASG student Nathan Washington who was selected to go to Space Camp at the U.S. Rocket & Space Center in Alabama, shared some insights from the first few days of his amazing experience. Here, he continues to relive the challenges and excitement, which he says has changed his outlook on many things.

If you missed part 1 of Nathan's epic adventures, you can catch up here.

Part 2:

Scuba diving"For the rest of the week, the full program began. We headed off first, on Monday morning, to “Area 51”, where we participated in some fairly unique bonding exercises, which were both physically and mentally intense, but overall a lot of fun. Later on in the week we returned twice, for both a zip line and a 10m tall pole which we climbed and then jumped straight off the top. The exuberant leaders of Area 51, who were easily the most stereotypical Americans I met there, with strong southern twangs to their voice, contributed to the whole feeling of intensity at the location.

Following this, we had training for our first training sessions, for Alpha and Bravo missions. The missions, numbering 4 overall and each an hour in length, all had the same objectives but with different positions in them, in the International Space Station, the Orbiter and the Mission Control. All of the positions had their own individual workloads, and they were all quite intense since they were so realistic. In the first, I was acting as Mission Specialist 2, performing an EVA (a space walk) and having to construct structures in full, real life space suits. For the second mission, Bravo, I was in Mission Control, working with a realistic setup of multiple statistic screens in front of me, and a headset to relay all of my information and workings to Capcom, the link between Mission Control and the Orbiter. I was working as the Flight Dynamics Officer, my favourite position overall. In the third I worked as the EECOM in Mission Control, in charge of all of the environmental factors inside the Orbiter, and for the final hour-long mission I was Flight Engineer 1 on the ISS, doing experiments and helping out the commander. The first two missions, Alpha and Bravo, were both run on Tuesday, and Charlie and Delta were both on Wednesday. All of these missions were training for the EDM, a 3-hour long mission with a bunch of possible outcomes.

Monday night brought about the creation of our engineering groups, within our own teams. With these groups, we participated in multiple activities. This first session began our main challenge, which was building a working rocket. This came with a couple of challenges and requirements; we had to work to a limited budget, which meant we couldn’t go overboard; we had to be able to deploy a parachute; and we also needed to design it to hold and keep a raw egg safe from launch through landing. Overall, through a few lengthy sessions of making the rocket, ours didn’t exactly work, travelling horizontal instead of vertical and burying itself a few centimetres into the ground. We approached the crash site slowly, only to find egg yolk all over the ground. Poor Eggbert did not survive our launch. However, in other challenges we participated in with our groups, we fared much better. We learned about ablative shielding, and designed our own form of protection, keeping Eggbert’s cousin Malcolm Eggs completely safe from a blowtorch on full power for 3 minutes, while some other groups let their eggs cook under the heat. We also constructed spacesuits for an apple, subjecting it to various extreme environmental conditions, and it fared quite well, despite unfortunately receiving no witty nickname.

Throughout the whole camp we also participated in a number of lectures, on everything from stars and constellations lying under an artificial sky in a small dome with a projector inside, to learning about various mechanical devices in place on space missions. We had discussions about the history of the Apollo missions, the earliest dawns of space exploration and everything in between. These lessons were in between all of our other experiences, and provided a familiar learning atmosphere; very welcome among everything else, which was quite full on and alien to all of us. This also included a lecture from a real astronaut, Dottie Metcalf-Lindenberger.

On Wednesday, we participated in one of the most surreal opportunities given to us yet. Following up from our scuba training on Sunday, we got the chance for the real thing. After putting on our tanks and learning how to use them, we slowly descended the ladder in the 7.3m deep cylindrical pool. Once down there, without flippers, it was very difficult to move, and simulated a feeling as close to zero gravity as possible. Once down there, Team Oberth participated in a number of fun things, such as playing basketball with bowling balls, soaring high over each other to dunk. Out of everything it was probably my equal favourite thing, on par with the EDM.

And finally, on Thursday, all of our training paid off and we got to complete our EDM, standing for the Extended Duration Mission. I was again FDO, relaying commands to the Orbiter through Capcom, and the mission was for the Orbiter to launch, dock with the ISS and proceed to entirely swap crews, with the ISS crew then landing the Orbiter. Despite a few hiccups, such as the entire crew of the Orbiter dying due to a pressure leak, and having to revive themselves by singing “I’m a little teapot” in the middle of the packed cafeteria, the mission went well and was incredible fun. This was heightened with the addition of random illnesses and mental issues which made everything a lot more spontaneous. Personally, I had a hallucination in the middle of my job, and so I had to fake bite somebody in Mission Control. I was subdued and put to sleep after this, and woke up to resume activities as usual.

Friday started with a 6:30am wake-up, after which we had the final activity, Space Bowl. It was a Jeopardy-style game in which all aspects of our knowledge were extensively tested. Unfortunately, Oberth didn’t quite make it, placing in 2nd after a tie for 1st, but it was a lot of fun. Finally, Friday also brought an emotional Graduation ceremony, in which we were all presented with packs, and we were all acknowledged as official graduates of the Advanced Academy program, and awards were presented. Out of all the competition, unfortunately Goddard won, and robbed Oberth of the win. We all said our tearful goodbyes, and with that Team Oberth and the rest of the camp disbanded.

Overall, after a cancelled flight from Huntsville to Dallas, leading to an overnight stay in a hotel and then a full 24 hour delay, we arrived back in Melbourne and Team Australia (as well as some members of Team New Zealand) said our reluctant goodbyes to each other, and all flew off in our different directions.

Reflecting on the opportunity, I can honestly say it was one of the best experiences of my life. Despite being completely different to what I expected, it was both physically and mentally challenging, and unique compared to anything I have ever experienced before. Above all, I will definitely miss the people the most, with close bonds of friendship formed with so many different people, including the members of Team Australia. It was an experience I will remember for the rest of my life, and has provided me with a new outlook on so many things."

Posted by John Velegrinis

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