Leroy’s Space Camp Odyssey – part two

by User Not Found | Nov 06, 2015

astronauts at workThe main activity of the camp was the Extended Duration Mission or EDM, (but we just called it the ‘Everybody Dies Mission’, for reasons that will become obvious later)! The EDM is a three hour mission held toward the last day of camp, with the aim of the team working together to launch to the International Space Station & then returning back to earth alive. Many of the other activities during the camp were in preparation for this final major mission.

One of the training missions to help us prepare and practice for the EDM was the Alpha mission. During this mission, my new best buddy Jonas and I were aboard the Orbiter as Mission Specialists. This meant that once in orbit we were supposed to leave the Orbiter wearing a spacesuit, and build a structure on a vertical wall in ‘outer space’. This sounded like heaps of fun, but unfortunately, the lift chairs and communication headsets weren’t working. We ended up sitting in boiling hot spacesuits for half an hour watching them try to fix it, but unsuccessfully. Luckily, we didn’t miss out, as the staff were very apologetic & ended up making up for it by arranging for us to be Mission Specialists on the final three hour EDM instead. Yeah!

In the Bravo training mission I was a Flight Engineer aboard the ISS with Jonas. We had many anomalies which we had to figure out solutions for, by communicating with our teammates in Mission Control. We ended up losing altitude rapidly and were so close to crashing into earth & dying, but managed to solve the problem just seconds before burning up! What a relief!

In the Charlie training mission, I was Flight Dynamics Officer (FDO) which meant I was responsible for the calculation of the manoeuvres that the Orbiter had to do. I also had to help solve any anomalies that occurred on board the orbiter.

In the Delta training mission I volunteered to do the role of two people, as our group had 15 people instead of the 16 required. This meant I was Extravehicular Activity Officer (EVA) and also Electrical Generation and Integrated Lighting Systems Engineer (EGIL). As EVA I had the role of helping the Mission Specialists and walking them through their spacewalk. AS EGIL I was responsible for making sure checklists were completed by the Orbiter crew and help with solutions every time there was an anomaly. There were plenty of anomalies to keep me on my toes!Leroy mission control

As well as training for the EDM, there were plenty of science & engineering challenges to keep us busy. For some activities, the individual teams were separated into smaller groups of four. We named our smaller team ‘The Omelettes’, which may not have been very appropriate, as some of the activities involved protecting an egg in a variety of extreme situations. However, despite our name, we did not kill a single egg the whole week (except at meal times of course)!

One of the challenges involved designing and building a rocket to launch an egg into the air & have it survive the landing without cracking. We had to keep within a tight budget and as an added incentive to keep the egg in one piece, they gave us ‘rotten’ eggs to use! On the day of the launch our rocket was the only rocket whose parachute opened correctly. I was extremely glad about this, as walking past the unsuccessful groups the smell was atrocious!

Another ‘eggy’ challenge involved designing and building a heat shield to prevent an egg from being cooked, even though it was being blasted for 2 minutes with a flame torch! Despite only having limited materials, we managed to create a heat shield out of aluminium foil, cork, spackle & even pasta! However, everyone was certain our egg would be completely hard boiled because, not only did our shield catch on fire, but our egg didn’t even crack when it was accidently dropped. Imagine everyone’s surprise & our relief when the egg was broken open, only to discover it was actually still perfectly raw.

Goddard Wednesday Space CampAnother food related task was to design and build a space suit to protect an apple. The little ‘apple suit’ needed to be water, radiation, and heat proof, and tough enough to withstand potential hits with deadly debris. Happily, my apple suit passed all of the above tests so I was able to eat my apple at the end!

Other cool challenges included: making a fuel cell by electrolysis of water, filtering dirty acidic water to make it drinkable, and building a plane. The planes were supposed to be able to fly accurately, straight, long distance, as well as around corners. Unfortunately, here were little planes flying around everywhere but most of them were flying in the opposite direction than intended!

Throughout the camp we were fortunate enough to be able to have heaps of fun on a variety of space rides and simulators. To simulate the extra G-forces of launching into space, we were strapped to a padded wall and spun around really fast. We were pinned to the wall and could really feel our bodies and cheeks being pulled back tightly.

The Multi Axis Trainer (MAT) was also fantastic. It incorporates 3 spherical rings inside each other, with a seat attached to the middle ring. These rings spin in random directions and it was originally designed to simulate the disorientation one would feel in a tumble spin during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. Our trainer assured us that because our stomachs would stay centred, we ‘shouldn’t’ have felt nauseous. Also, the MAT ‘shouldn’t’ spin more than twice in a row in the same direction, so your inner ear fluid won’t be able to shift, and you shouldn’t feel dizzy. Most people in our group did not feel sick at all. However, one poor girl still ended having to go to sick bay afterwards!

Another awesome simulator was the 1/6th gravity chair, which was suspended by a delicate arrangement of wires from the roof. Once strapped in the chair, it allowed us to walk on a moonlike surface and feel 1/6th of our weight. It was so fun to jump around and feel like I was actually walking on the moon.

Scuba diving Space CampOne of my most favourite parts of the camp was the scuba underwater weightless training. Our already small group of 4 was cut down to 3, as one of the other Mission Specialists had trouble depressurising his ears and sadly could not dive. The huge water filled cement tank is 24 feet deep and is lined with windows to look in and out of. I had never scuba dived before and it was amazing to be so deep under the water, doing numerous somersaults and backflips and feeling totally weightless. We were able to play heaps of anti-gravity games under the water and there was a cool vertical tube in the middle to swim through. We played basketball with bowling balls, which is very hard in microgravity and even tried juggling with golf balls. We were down under water for about an hour, but time went so quick because I was having so much fun.

After all of these team building activities, the time finally came to undertake the main mission (EDM). We felt ‘reasonably’ confident in our ability to complete the mission successfully, despite our Crew Trainers statements that we were about meet our ‘imminent death’! Some of the problems thrown at us during the EDM were ones we had previously prepared for. However, many anomalies were new to us and really challenged our ability to work as a team & think on our feet. It was necessary for us to develop our own solutions quickly. In this mission they throw everything they have at us to try and make us die!!!

The first half of the EDM involved launching the Orbiter Space Shuttle, and once in orbit, docking to the International Space Station. I was Mission Specialist for the first half. As part of the scenario, a fire started on board the Orbiter. Also, as part of the scenario the other Mission Specialist had to pretend she burnt her hand so severely that she had developed a fever/hallucinations and had to be restrained for the rest of the mission! During all of this chaos, and whilst we were busy replacing the LIOH canister filters so we wouldn’t die of CO2 poisoning, we were hit by an asteroid which put a hole in the Orbiter, nearly killing us.

To make things worse, my team-mates back at Mission Control accidently told us the wrong solution to an anomaly we were faced with. They told us to do a RTLS abort, which is virtually impossible. Even the astronaut John Young once said that he would quit if they ever made him do one! We were terrified at the prospect. Fortunately, and just in time, they realised their monumental mistake, telling us that all we needed to do to fix the problem was press a single button. Phew!

Despite surviving all of this, we had trouble docking to the Space Station. We suspect ‘foul play’ on the part of the Crew Trainers because our joy-stick controller would not work at all, and we ended up drifting directly underneath the Space Station instead. The Crew Trainers decided we were close enough to have hit it anyway, so pronounced us all dead. This included all of my teammates back on earth at Mission Control, because apparently the debris just happened to land on their building, killing them all instantly! To keep it fun, if you die during the EDM you have to do something really stupid and embarrassing in front of all the people at the food court area to be resurrected. We performed an interesting & enthusiastic Cha Cha and were allowed to move on to the second stage of the EDM.

The second half of the mission aimed to successfully land the Orbiter back on earth. I switched over to Flight Engineer on board the International Space Station. I participated in an EVA (Extravehicular Activity), along with someone else, in which we changed an old ammonia tank over on the outside of the ISS. It was extremely hot and sweaty in our space suits, but was easier than the first half of the mission because they don't try to kill the people doing the EVA.

Goddard Space CampHowever, as soon as we returned back to the ISS we discovered it had been hit by an asteroid and was losing altitude! Not 30 seconds after returning, the ISS hit the earth's atmosphere killing us all (there sure is a lot of dangerous asteroids in space). As you can see, the ‘Everybody Dies Mission’ nickname is most appropriate! This time, my teammates had to discover and say a secret ‘word’ to resurrect the ISS dead. However, the twist was that the dead could not talk to give any clues and we ourselves did not know what the secret word was. After at least 20 minutes of random guessing we discovered that the necessary ‘word’ was in fact three words - our first, middle and last names. Talk about challenging us!

To top it all off, on our last day we had our Graduation Ceremony where we were awarded certificates by the astronaut Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger. Our team was honoured to be given the main award - the prestigious Commander's Cup, which is an award for the team with the most points after the whole week!

Dorothy had previously given us a fantastic talk about how she became an astronaut. Despite attending Space Camp as a 14 year old and always wanting to be an astronaut, Dorothy ended up becoming a teacher instead. However, when she was researching her school student's question about ‘how astronauts go to the toilet in space’, she stumbled across an advertisement on a NASA website seeking teachers to train as astronauts! She applied successfully & then went on to become the first Space camp graduate to ever become an astronaut. Her message was clear - ‘Don’t give up. Even though it may take a long time, keep on following your dreams - because anything’s possible!’ I was so proud to shake her hand when I received my award.

Imagine the farewells, the hugs, the back slapping, the swapping of contact details and gift giving, as you realise it is time to leave your new best friends to head back home. Travelling over 48 hours and 14773 kilometres until you finally reach Aussie soil again. Imagine being home and sharing all the stories and handing out presents to an excited family. A fluffy stuffed ‘Space-monkey’ in an astronaut suit for little sister - in memory & gratitude for her part in the Space Camp dream, all those years ago as little kids! Sharing freeze dried ‘Space-food ice-cream’ sandwiches with your mates at school. More determined than ever to keep working hard & achieving your best. Imagine the future...

After Space camp - anything is possible. As Leonardo de Vinci once stated "When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the Earth with your Eyes Turned Skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return."

Thank you ASG for launching me off and helping me taste flight!

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