Two weeks from now I will exchange the comforts of my home for a bunk in the US Space Camp's Habitat 1 as I start my week long adventure as a trainee in the Adult Advanced Space Academy program. For six days I'll be as close as it gets to training like an astronaut. I'm doing the mission specialist track which includes learning about the engineering and design of the space shuttle and international space station. I'll go through lectures and training; team building exercises; take a spin (literally) in the centerfuge; possibly get to fly the high performance jet simulators (I think they're still F-14s, but I'm not certain. This isn't all that exciting for me, as I occasionally get to spend time in the F-35 simulators at work); learn to work in simulated microgravity in the Underwater Astronaut Trainer (UAT, a 22 foot deep scuba diving tank); rotate through positions in the shuttle, station and mission control room during simulated missions during which I hope to get to go "play outside" and do an EVA (extra-vehicular activity) to repair and/or build something (usually a satellite, solar panel or something on the shuttle or station itself. I wouldn't be surprised if one of the standard anomalies includes fixing a damaged thermal tile on the shuttle.) and, at the very end, participate in an extended duration simulated mission (somewhere between 12 and 24 hours).
For those of you who haven't heard me talking about this for the last nine or so months, to say that I'm very excited would be an understatement. I've been to space camp before. I went through what was then called Academy Level I when I was in junior high and attended Academy Level II twice when I was in high school. They were all amazing experiences. The programs themselves are amazingly fun. There's so much to do and to learn and almost all of it is hands-on, interactive experiences. The schedule is almost non-stop and the staff is incredibly well trained. With the exception of the mediocre food and incredibly cold rooms in the Hab (I've heard neither has changed much), Space Camp is one of the most amazing places I have ever been.
But, beyond the camp itself, one of the things that I remember and enjoyed the most about my times at Camp were the people that I met. It should surprise no one that I was a pretty big geek in junior high and especially high school (and I have no illusions about the fact that I still am). I had a hard time fitting in and didn't have a lot of friends. Then, when I went to camp, I found myself surrounded by people who were so much like me. These people were interested in the same geeky stuff I was into. They were smart and not ashamed of that fact. Despite not knowing each other before the first day of camp, we found that was had so much in common that, we quickly became teammates and, in some cases, close friends. I still have some pictures from one of my weeks at camp on the wall in my office. And I can't help but smile whenever I look at them.
I'm hoping that in two weeks I'll be in the middle of another experience like that, at an amazing place, surrounded by other similiarly minded people, willing to put our lives on hold for a week to go off and pretend to be astronauts. It's like geek fantasy camp and I'm so looking forward to it.