Sunday, September 30, 2007

There's more than one kind of family

Many people who know me know that I define family a little differently than most people. For me, family is more than just the people I'm related to. Although my family certainly is my sister, brother-in-law, nephews and mom and dad, my family is also my friends, the people at my church, the gang at the gym. To me, family is the people who you live your life with on a day-to-day basis.

Tonight, I got together with my church family for a potluck dinner, hymn sing, barn raising and ice cream social (although not those last two). It was a great time. We haven't done an all church potluck in ages and I don't remember ever getting together just to sing hymns with the church family. The food was great. The time to just hang out and talk with people was wonderful. The singing was a lot of fun. The Quebe sisters sang and played for a few hymns including The Ninety and Nine, which I recognized from Andrew Peterson's CD Carried Along. They were accompanied by Jacob (our music guy) and Ben (who even links to a Quebe Sisters clip on YouTube) who's about to head to Germany to be a missionary. After the song was over, they broke into the Irish jig (or whatever) that ends that song on the disc. Watching them play, it was obvious that they were all having a great time. And all of us not playing really enjoyed it as well.

Looking around the sanctuary, while we were singing, I realized, once again, what an amazing congregation I'm a part of, what an amazing family I have. I may not actually be related to any of these people, but it just doesn't matter. God has truly blessed me here.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

10 and 2 - Adventures in the US Civil Courts System

My intimate, first hand look at the US justice system is now complete. As of about 2pm-ish, this afternoon, I have been released from my duties as a juror in the 96th District Court (a civil court, so no criminal trials). And, as with previous days, I'm a bit wiped out. Actually, I'm probably more wiped out today than previous days, but I attribute at least some of that to doing "Boring Abs" during abs class (where we do one specific exercise until we all collapse, usually in the 100+ reps and then switch to another exercise for another 100+ reps. I really dislike Boring Abs. But I went and I partipated and I'm glad that I did.) and then kickboxing class, which often wears me out. But, yeah, serving on a jury is, for me at least, draining. It's work, and of a different kind than I'm used to doing. And, now that the trial is over and I have been released from my duties, mustered out and even deposited my check for my service, I can talk about it.

Let me start with a bit about the jury selection process. During the Voir Dire (where the attorneys get to ask questions of the entire panel from which the jurors will be selected), we were told that this was a automobile accident case, that the plaintiff was seeking damages due to injuries and that she was Hispanic and spoke little English, that there were two defendants one of whom was black and the other who was a Marine. The attorneys spent a lot of time talking about the burden of proof (which is probably cause or "more likely than not" rather than beyond a reasonable doubt as in criminal cases), whether an autmobile accident could have more than one cause (and implied that it could be the fault of more than one person) and asked about our feelings about people in the United States who aren't able to speak English well or at all. In the end, no one with any experience in the medical field or military experience (and certainly not the retired Navy corpsman who now worked for the US Postal Service and had duties that included investigating postal service traffic accidents) made the jury. There were, however, two engineers (which I have been told by many people that it's rare for engineers to actually get on a jury) on the jury. Our jury of 12 was made up of three men, nine women. Three (I think) of the women were retired. Two of the women looked like they had some sort of Hispanic background. Most people seemed relatively well educated, over half had jobs in professions that would have required a college degree. It was an interesting cross-section of the people in the area.

On to the case. The traffic accident took place on North Beach just south of Western Center back in June of 1995. DJ (who has an African sounding name that looks like it has too many vowels...everyone, the judge included, refered to him as DJ, which was fine with him) was driving a PT Cruiser in the right hand lane. Mike, who's now a lance corporal in the Marines, but hadn't yet joined at the time of the accident, was driving a Mazda Protege in the center lane. Maria, a hispanic woman who spoke little English, was driving a Ford Explorer in the right hand lane. DJ signaled and looked to see if he could change lanes. Whether he made a move towards changing lanes is unknown. But he didn't cross into Mike's lane. Mike, thinking that DJ was about to change lanes on top of him, looked out his driver's side window, saw no one and swerved to avoid what he thought was an imminent collision with DJ. Mike his Maria, causing her Explorer to go up on the curb (at least a little bit) and jostling her around. They all pulled over and, a few minutes later, talked to the police officer to who respnded to the call about the wreck. At the time, no one said they were injured. All cars were drivable and left the scene under their own power. Mike's car had "distributed damage" along the driver's side which, according to the police report, was a level 2 (out of 9). Maria had a "good dent" (Mike's words) in the right front quarter panel (somewhere in front of the passenger door) that was a level 1 (again, out of 9).

Later on, Maria started to have pain in her neck, back, hips, radiating down her right arm and right leg. The pain did not significantly improve and two weeks after the accident she went to a chiropractor for treatment. She did improve some over the course of two months of treatment, but said that some pain remains today (2.5ish years after the accident). She was suing Mike for damages including pain and suffering that she incurred in the past (before the date of the trial), pain and suffering that she would most likely incur in the future (after the trial), physical impairment in the past and in the future and medical expenses in the past in and in the future. Mike blamed DJ, so he was added as a party in the lawsuit. We the jury were charged with answering a number of questions. Was DJ negligent in his actions (Mike admitted to being negligent in his, so that wasn't for us to determine)? If DJ Was negligent, what percentage of the accident was Mike's fault and what was DJ's? And, what amounts, if any, should Maria receive for those medical issues I mentioned above (which I'm not going to retype).

The evidence was not terribly clear. The police officer didn't remember the accident and could only go by the police report. There was questions about where the cars were in relation to each other. Both Mike and DJ said they saw the other in their side view mirrors. The police officer said that, in her opinion, based on her experience in traffic investigation, Mike was traveling faster than Maria and therefore hit Maria in the front of his car, slid along her car and that caused the damage. Mike remembers hitting Maria first with the back of his car, which would indicate that Maria was going faster than Mike. Although no one made any allegations of speeding (DJ said they were accelerating away from a light). We didn't have to determine anything about the legality of their actions, nothing about traffic laws or anything. Only negligence and damages for medical related issues. Maria's testimony was not easy. Since she spoke very little English, she used an interpreter. The judge said later than he knows just enough Spanish that the interpreter was doing more interpreting than translating. Apparently, Maria's lawyer caught that as well. But, as a court appointed translator/interpreter, there wasn't much that anyone could do other than the lawyers ask the questions a different way. Maria's testimony took the longest, partly because of that, partly because of the interpreter (everything was said at least twice). Maria was also very nervous on the witness stand (not surprising). She also didn't have a great recall of the events surrounding, well, much of anything. I'm not sure how much of that was cultural, how much of that was her being intimidated (which certainly was a factor. When I testified in a criminal case a number of years ago, I was very intimidated and I was just the person who called 911.) and how much was her just not really quite understanding what all was going on. In the end, all of the jury instructions, initial arguments, testimony, closing arguments and all of the filing into and out of the jury box (we got really good at lining up in the right order so that we wouldn't have to step over anyone getting to our assigned seats) took from Tuesday before lunch through quitting time Wednesday. Longer than expected, but we also got a late start on Wednesday due to some other court business that the judge couldn't do any other time.

In our deliberations, there was more varied opinions than I think anyone thought there was. We got a bit of a late start deliberating, due to two of the jury being stuck in traffic (apparently I-35 was a mess this morning). After electing a presiding juror (formerly called a jury foreman), which we did by more or less appointing the guy who was the latest, he was so apologetic that he didn't make any arguments, we got down to work. There was some discussion about whether DJ was negligent or not. But, after reviewing the definition of probably cause (would a reasonable person foresee that his actions or inactions would have caused these events...more or less), we unanimously agreed that he was not negligent. Although, later on, I think that one of the guys was waffling about that. But it turned out that even if he did, it wouldn't have mattered...I'll get to that in a minute. On the question of awarding money to Maria for medical stuff, we were all good with awarding no money until we got to the part about the past medical bills. That's where we got stuck for a good while. At the start, the jury was split almost evenly at awarding no money or awarding some money. There was lots of discussion about a variety of topics. I don't remember them all. There were questions about the credibility of the witnesses (since the accounts they gave were so different), whether Maria had any previous medical conditions that this accident could have made worse and pushed her over the edge of seeing a doctor (she said she had no previous medical conditions and hadn't seen a doctor in five years. But I wasn't convinced that the plaintiff's side did a great job proving that she didn't have any issues prior to the accident). There were comments about chiropractors and lots of other things. We took a number of votes and inched towards our required 10 jurors in agreement (it is required that the same 10 of the 12 jurors are in agreement about every question that is asked of them). It came down to 9 to 3 for giving her money for the past medical bills (which totaled just under $5000). I was one of the three. As I said, I had a hard time with the fact that I didn't feel that the plaintiff's side proved to me, more likely than not (which, again, was the level that was required in the case) that Maria's injuries were bad enough, solely as a result of this accident, that she sought medical treatment (the other hold out wasn't convinced she actually had the pain she said she had. The third had issues with her credibility, the fact that everyone's story was different and a couple of other things.). After what was probably 90 minutes of discussion (all very civil on everyone's part, although I could tell I wasn't making any friends or influencing people), I came to the conclusion that I believed that Maria was injured, to some extent in the accident and that, because at least some of her injuries were due to the accident, she was entitled to at least some monetary award for the medical bills accrued due to the injury. When I type it all out now and reread it, it sounds really simple. But, trust me when I say, at least for me, that it wasn't. At that point, it was about seven minutes to twelve, I knew I wasn't at the point where I was ready to talk about the amount of money, and so I suggested we break for lunch. I know there were a number of people who would have loved to have been done before lunch, but my blood sugar was crashing, my head was starting to hurt and I wasn't willing to make a decision like that when pressed for time and not feeling anywhere near 100%. So I said basically that (although I used less words and emphasized it by digging my grapes out of my lunch box and starting to eat them). And we broke for lunch.

I did what I had been doing the previous couple of days for lunch. I wandered down towards the river, ate lunch and then went walking along the trail there. Wednesday and today it was pretty warm out and I wanted to get some exercise (today especially to help clear my head) so I walked kinda fast. And, as a result got a bit sweaty. Yesterday I didn't realize that was going to be the case until it was too late. I had gone too far out and didn't have the time to really slow down and still make it back on time. Today I didn't really care. I knew I was going to be hot and a bit sweaty when I got back to court. I hoped I didn't smell too bad and figured it was better for me to have a clear head than for me to be really fresh smelling. No one said anything (although the baliff, a neat guy named Mr Tilley, who enjoyed the series premiers of both Chuck and Bionic Woman, both good pilots, in my opinion, did give me a bit of a look yesterday when he let us back into the jury room. Oh well. He didn't say anything and I felt better.)

When we got back from lunch, we started talking about money. This was very difficult for me. I'm not certain if it's that I have a different view of money than many people (honestly, I make a reasonable amount more than my standard of living requires. So, I don't think about money a whole lot. I have more than enough for what I need and most of what I want and I'm content with that. I may gripe about "merit raises" at work a bit, but I have absolutely nothing to complain about when it comes to money. God has blessed me hugely in that way.). Or it may be that I'm just not that great with numbers (yes, I'm an engineer. No, I'm not amazing with numbers. I have a hard time remembering specific, but seemingly random numbers (highway route numbers are the worst) and I still, on occasion, count on my fingers when adding an subtracting. I had do multiplication, division and figure square roots to a couple of decimal points in my head. I can't add or subtract too well.). But I had a real hard time with the number thing. It came down to the other 9 people (of the core 10. The other two who didn't agree with giving Maria any money at this point didn't really count anymore. Their opinions were still valid and valued, but since they weren't part of our required 10, their votes didn't count anyway.) were good with giving Maria 50% of her past medical bills (just under $2500), and I was waffling. I felt that somewhere between 25% and 50% was good, but I had a hard time coming to a specific number. Some of the other jurors were starting to get annoyed with me (or more annoyed in some cases), but I worked hard not to let that get to me. I had decided before I was even selected for a jury that, regardless of what pressure people put on me, regardless of the time pressures or anything else, I was going to do the best job I could to give the fairest and best decision that I was able to. I figured I owed the people involved with the case, the judge, the system, myself and, really, everyone who lives under the US justice system that. It's what I would want if I was a part of the case and I think it's the right thing to do. So, we talked a bit about the money and about the percentages. And others admitted that they weren't certain that 50% was right. I (and not for the first time) asked the other engineer, specifically, why he thought the way he did (I found that hearing how the men thought helped me understand things a lot more than hearing how the women thought. Not sure if that's because my engineering mind thinks more like guys do or I just appreciated how the men expressed their thoughts more than how the women did, or a combination of both and probably some other things.). And pretty much everyone couldn't come up with more than 50% seemed right. There wasn't a formula people were using or anything related to how much they felt Maria's injuries were sustained from the accident or how much of the accident was Mike's fault or anything. It seemed to come down to that it just felt right. And, I can't say that I didn't come to the conclusion that 50% was the right amount by any other reasoning. I'm still not certain that 50% was the "right" amount, but I'm also not certain that there is a right amount. I did the best I could. Many people breathed a sigh of relief. We decided (unanimously) to award no money for any medical expenses that Maria might have in the future (although the suit was asking for almost $2000, which would have covered an MRI and something else...I don't remember exactly what now. More chiropractic treatments probably.). And, just like that, we had our verdict.

We filed into the court room one last time, delivered our verdict and the case was over. There were still some other things to tie up. We had to get some (more) instructions, be officially released, get our verifications of serving jury duty (in case anyone needed that for an employeer) and get our paychecks. Officer Tilley took care of getting that rounded up for us while the judge hung out with us in the jury room and took some time to answer any questions we had. That was an interesting time. The judge was very careful to couch some of his answers to questions. He wouldn't say whether what we did was right or wrong or whether he agreed with what we had decided, only that we had done well. He did answer the question of why DJ and his lawyer had disappeared after Wednesday. Turns out that before the trial was over (and possibly even before it began) that he settled with Maria and her lawyer. The judge wouldn't give us a dollar amount, but he said it was a reasonable amount more than what we had awarded Maria. He would have been better sticking it out, but he didn't know that and I think he was a bit scared. Way it goes. We also learned that Maria didn't have a driver's license at the time of the accident. It wasn't really relevant to the case, since she didn't really do anything wrong. She just got hit. But we weren't allowed to know that. So, that was rather interesting and, if that information had been known, perhaps might have changed some people's minds. Not that it should have, but I think it might have.

So, tomorrow I'm back to work and back to my normal schedule (no more sleeping in a bit, doing morning workouts or using public transportation for at least part of my morning commute. For those in Fort Worth, the whole park at La Grave field and take the bus downtown works really well. It's free and aside from possibly having to wait up to 15 minutes for a bus (if you just miss the previous one), it's great.). I'm looking forward to getting back to my life. And that means getting to bed very soon, cause I'm well past my bedtime.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

More new experiences

I've had a couple of new experiences over the past few days.

Monday morning I had to report for jury duty. This is my first time to actually serve jury duty. I was called once before, when I was in college. But, being a student and especially one studying out of state (I was a resident of Michigan, going to school at Georgia Tech), I was able to get out of serving. This time, I received a summons for a Friday in either July or August (I don't remember which), but it was for an off-Friday. So, not wanting to spend an off day serving jury duty, I took advantage of being able to postpone my date of service. Given the choice of three Mondays to report to serve, I chose 24 September. So, Monday morning I headed towards downtown.

While I'm sure the process of assigning prospective jurors to courts is more streamlined than it used to be, there's still a lot of room for improvement. I arrived a bit before 8am, about 30 minutes prior to the time I was required to show up...I wasn't sure how traffic and parking was going to be, and had to stand in line for a bit before being let into the jury room. Once I was checked in (a process that involved scanning my summons and being handed a plastic badge holder), I sat for at least 45 minutes (well, sat and read...at least I had a good book) before we even got started. After some instructions, dealing with people who wanted exemptions or postponements, swearing an oath, a few more instructions and dealing with more exemptions, jury pools began to be called. This involved the woman in charge (I know she had a title, I just don't remember what it was) calling a series of names and instructing that group of people which court they were assigned to, the location of that court and the time they were to report. The first group was assembled around 9:10 am. Some large groups were called and required to fill out questionairres and then, once those were done, they were told their court assignment and where to report (these tended to be for the criminal courts, I believe). My group was finally called around 10:30 am. We were the first group that was given a reporting time for the next day. So, we were free to go...until Tuesday. I estimate that about half of the jury pool for that day had been assigned at that point. And, with the exception of the few jurors who would be held in the reserve pool (for those requests for juries that came in later in the day), I'm pretty sure everyone after me was assigned to a court to report on Tuesday. It seems like it would be much easier to have an automated system, either telephone or on the web (or both, ideally) that would allow you to enter your juror number and it would return your court assignment and your reporting date and time. Seems like that would save a whole lot of trouble and time for everyone. But, apparently, that system hasn't become available yet...at least not here in Tarrant County.

So, I showed up this morning and the judge spoke with us at length about how serving on a jury works and the jury selection process. It was all very informative and he made it interesting as well. This is a civil court, so 12 jurors would be chosen from the pool of 31. The lawyers asked us all questions (a process known by the French term voir dire...although it was said mostly with a Texas accent this morning....I only cringed a little) and after a brief recess the jury was chosen. I can't say anything about the case until after it's over, and I'm not sure about how much I can say about the jury selection process, so I'll leave that for another time.

After our lunch break, we heard the opening arguments for the case and the testimony of the first few witnesses. So far, it's been interesting to be a part of the process. I will say that the jury box for the court room we are in was not set-up for tall people. I'm 5'5.5" and I'm very cramped in there. The chairs are fairly low and the divider that sets the jury box apart from the rest of the court room is very close. It might be better in the second row (my assigned seat is on the first row), but probably not much. I'm sure that the couple of guys are pretty cramped. Hopefully we will finish up tomorrow (the estimate comes from the judge) although a lot of that probably depends on how long our deliberations go. We'll see. I do need to get back to work as I know I have a couple of things waiting for my return. I wasn't figuring I would be away so long.
I also realized that it requires a lot of attention to attentively and actively listen all of the time. Maybe I knew this when I was taking classes regularly and it was just second nature. But to have to force myself to actively listen for hours on end (granted we do get regular breaks), I've found has left me a lot more tired than I would expect.

The other interesting and new thing that I've done this week is start a basic music theory class at church. This is something that Jacob, our director of music (or whatever his title is. He's not an ordained pastor, so I think that makes him "director".) is teaching it. It's geared towards those with little to no music background. Tonight was mostly review for me...although I'm having to dredge up information from when last I actually played music which would be elementary school, so it's been a good review. I think it's going to be an interesting class. I'm not certain what I hope to get out of it, but since it's just an eight week class, and it fits in my schedule, I thought I would give it a try. As I mentioned to the small group that was assembled for tonight's class, if you put the word theory into just about anything, I'm liable to be interested. I figure it's a good way to broaden my horizons a little bit. And, maybe it will help me learn to appreciate music more. One interesting thing that I did learn tonight was that in most hymnals that have music, the four voice parts (soprano, alto, tenor and base) are all represented. Which is why there are four sets of notes (generally two on the top or treble staff and two on the bottom or bass staff). I had never noticed that there were always four sets of notes and never connected that that would be the four standard parts. I also learned that the soprano and tenor parts (generally the two higher parts, one on each scale) are the melody while the alto and bass parts are the harmony. I had a general idea of what harmony was, but never really realized that it was written on the scales. This may be common knowledge to others, but it's new to me.

It's been an interesting week for me so far. I'm looking forward to learning more...after I get some sleep. Who would have thought that just sitting and listening all day would make me this tired?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Stuff that sticks

Just about a week ago, I graduated from space camp. It's been interesting to me, especially in the past few days, to realize the impact that the trip has had on me. I've measured this mainly by what I've mentioned most when others asked me how the trip went.
Initially, I spoke most enthusiastically about my scuba diving experiences, particularly my helmet dive. And that was an amazing experience. As I've said before, it was unlike anything I've ever done. And it was one of the things that felt really like real astronaut training. While I still talk about that a lot (and show those pictures the most), it's the two times at Area 51 that I've shifted to speaking about more. Those were the times that really stretched me and during which our team really came together, especially our experience with the pamper pole. For me, personally, it was a big step, as I've always been too afraid to event attempt an element of that type. But, with the set-up at Area 51 and, especially, the support of my team, it was almost easy (actually, it was easy. All except for the part of getting from the second to last staple up to the top of the pole.). And, while I don't talk about the people as much, at least not individually, it was the people of Team Marshall, including the counselors and other staff people, who really made the program for me.

Space Camp, at least if you judge it from the web site is mostly about the simulated missions and learning about the space program. And that was one of the big draws of the program for me both when I initially went as a kid and when I went back as an adult. But those elements haven't really has as big of an impact on me. I do have a bit of a renewed interest in all things space related now that I'm back from camp. And I do spend more time looking up at the stars. But, overall, those aren't the parts of the program and of my trip that have stuck with me.

For me, I think, space camp was really about the people; my team, and the experiences we shared together. I guess, really, that's a big part of what summer camp and, by extension, life is all about.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

So, I was wrong

Apparently, my memory was incorrect and there is no manual override (hand crank or otherwise) for the space shuttle orbiter payload bay doors. Although the door latches can be manually engaged from inside the payload bay, should it jam when the doors close. And, the power drive unit for the doors can be manually disengaged, which tells me that if there was ever a real need to, there probably is a way to get the doors either open or closed without using the motors. But it certainly wouldn't be a lot of fun.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Back into the routine

While I don't consider vacation officially over until I have to get up for work on Monday morning, I am getting back into my normal, at home, routine. Sunday school and worship this morning, afternoon nap on the couch with the cats (although I need to convince Iggy to either stay off me or stay on me. The whole up and down thing interferes with my sleep a bit.). I talked to Mom and Dad this afternoon. They were at the IRC (I think that's the right initials) race on Belle Isle in Detroit last weekend and did the old car festival at Greenfield Village yesterday. Sounds like they had a good time. I remember going as a kid. Not my favorite event. Muzzle Loaders Festival (with the old firearms and some mock battles) was better. Although I do remember enjoying watching the various competitions on the village green. I remember something about having to drive from one end of the green to another and having to pop balloons on the way down...or something like that. Riding the carousel and eating ice cream while watching the old, mechanical clock strike the hour was always a lot of fun.

I also got to talk to Cori and Jason, from Space Camp, tonight. It was a short conversation, but it was good to talk to them. I think it's a good sign when goodbyes are hard to say and you miss people when you're not around them. Means that these people made an impact on your life. And that's certainly the case with the team that I spent the previous week with. While I was out running errands yesterday I got to thinking about how close our team became in such a short time. And thinking about how I could become good friends with any of these people that I interacted with in the stores in just a week's time. I knew that I probably wouldn't, just given the circumstances, but it's interesting to think of that possibility. Gives me a certain kind of hope for just life and the world and people, knowing that I could be just a few days from having some new, good friends, given the right circumstances.

Tonight we start small groups at church. I have my small group at 5:30 until 7. Then I'm helping to lead the high school girls' small group from 7:15-8:30. I'll get dinner in there somewhere (already have it packed and ready to go). Oh, and I bought cookies to take for the girls' too. Baked goods always make everything more fun. :) I'm not terribly thrilled about the idea of having the groups back to back, but it's what works best for everyone's schedule. So, I'll make it work. It's only twice a month.

And back to work and back into the routines of life tomorrow. Gotta pay the bills, I guess. One day maybe I'll fulfill my dream of being an independently wealthy philantropist and not have to go to work unless I want to. Unfortunately, that day will not be tomorrow (nor probably any time this week....maybe in October though).

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Post Space Camp - Day 1

And now's the time in the Space Camp story where I spend some quality time with the couch. It's not so much the travel shock anymore, just the general sleep deprivation. Oh, and the fact that my right ear is still a little plugged up from either diving or flying...not sure which (or if it's a combination of both) but it's starting to get a bit annoying.

I'll try again to upload some pictures (might not be until tomorrow). Blogger is having issues (or maybe it's the computer of the internet connection).

Space Camp - Day 5 - EDM and other things

Thursday (yesterday as I type this from the airplane) was the day of the big extended duration mission. In many ways, this is the culmination of every part of the week at Space Camp. It's a chance to apply what we've learned in our lectures and other missions, a chance to work as a team to solve problems and a chance to have a lot of fun.

The day started a bit later than most. Breakfast was pushed back an hour, so we got to sleep in a little. I got up around 6:30 and headed out for a longer than usual run. I ran out towards the front of the museum, past the SR-71 (one of my favorite airplanes) and along the construction fence in front of the Saturn V center. When I reached the end of that area, I turned around and headed back past the Hab and the Mariott and down towards Area 51 and Aviation Challenge. I wondered if I would be stopped at the AC gate, but there was no one there, so I ran in, did a loop around the Cobra helicopter that sits in the "driveway" area and headed back towards Space Camp proper. I admit that I didn't run the entire way back, as by this point I had been going about 30 minutes. So I took a few stretches at a walk before arriving back under Pathfinder at the entrance of Rocket Park for some stretching, crunches, pushups and a bit of shadow boxing (it was Thursday after all and while classes at the gym are on a break week, I still felt like doing a little kick boxing work.) As I headed back to the hab, I encountered the group of Brits who were there for, I think, advanced academy (the high school equivalent of the program we were finishing up). I got some slightly odd looks (not a lot of joggers out early mornings at camp), but they made way for me to run through. I got a shower and got ready for the day.

Breakfast was the traditional astronaut preflight meal of steak and eggs. Not a prime cut, but they served it to us on gold rimmed china with real silverware and linen napkins. I took the chance and asked for salsa for the eggs. After confirming with the slightly confused kitchen staff that I really did want salsa in the morning and for my eggs, they got some out of the refrigerator for me. It wasn't great stuff, but it made my meal that much more enjoyable. After we all finished up, we were presented with a cake, decorated with our team designed mission patch. This was the first time I had seen the finished product and Bruno and the rest of the guys who worked on it did a great job. We took our mission picture with Valerie and Casey (our day and night counselors, respectively, if you don't have your program handy) and then had a bit of free time before EDM started. I went out to rocket park with a few others to throw a frisbee around a bit. It was a good way to pass the time and calm any last minute nerves. And then it was time.

As I mentioned, I was assigned to mission control for the duration. I filled the ACO role (assembly and construction officer...or something like that.) It's a role that involves helping out with the EVAs in real life. At camp, this person doesn't have a lot of responsibilities. This actually suited me just fine as it allowed me the freedom to help out as needed working problems (and there would be many) and left me free for my scuba EVA.

The mission got off to a reasonable start. We had a couple of comm issues, but those were quickly resolved and away we went. The pilot and commander got a little behind on their checklists (not unusual) and the flight director called for hold at around T-4 minutes (we started at T-9 minutes). Misson Control Space Ghost (the counselors who run the sims are called ghosts or space ghosts. They're there, but they're not really there.) was reluctant to grant the hold, but ended up, by a special dispensation directly from whatever space God rules over EDMs, we were granted about two minutes of extra time. It would not be the last special dispensations of time we would be granted over the course of the next few hours and it was greatly appreciated. When we resumed the count, we were in good shape. The ascent to orbit went well...until the commander had a heart attack. Well, not literally. Every position has a specific medical history that includes various allergies and conditions. The flight director is lactose intolerant. Oribiter pilot is allergic to bee stings (that got me when I went to Level II the second time and I was the pilot for the EDM. Turns out we had a bee experiment on board that was less than secure.) Capcom is allergic to pollen and has mild narcolepsy. Mission Scientist is allergic to chocolate. Prop is prone to tension headaches. As ACO, I only had a history of low blood pressure. But I figured this evened out EVA's high blood pressure, as she was in the seat next to me. All of these conditions as well as the treatments for various medical issues and all of the medications that are available are listed in the medical handbook in the mission control room. I spent a lot of time flipping through that book throughout the day. So, when Jennifer, our commander, had a heart attack, Cori, Mission Specialist 2, jumped up to help her. Unfortunately, she forgot about the g forces the crew was experiencing, as we were still in the ascent phase of the flight. The result was two broken legs and about 3 minutes of her having to lie on the floor (Jennifer just had to slump over in her seat) until main engine cutoff was achieved and the crew was weightless. By that time, I had found the procedures for treating the emergencies and had passed the corresponding pages off to Capcom (Jason) to relay up to the orbiter. Not long after we got the crew taken care of, Jason's narcolepsy kicked in and we had to figure out how to treat him. He was not easily roused, so I rolled him away from his station so that someone else (I think it was Bill who was Prop) could take over his position. I have a friend from college who has narcolepsy and I remember that he took ridaline (yes, the drug given to hyperactive children) for it. Apparently the effects of the drug are the opposite for a narcoleptic person as they are for one not afflicted with that condition. However, the med book had nothing on the treatment of narcolepsy and our med kit had no ridalin. While I was searching for some sort of solution and trying to convince Space Ghost that not only was the correct treatment not available (when it should have been) but that we also didn't have any other stimulants (and I was hesitant to give Jason anything with caffeine in it, as that also has the opposite effect on those with narcolpsy), Jason fell out of his chair (I thought I had him well propped up against the back table, using Reagan's pack as a pillow) and was happily snoozing away on the floor. It was about this time that Flight's lactose intolerance kicked in (I told him not to have milk for breakfast) and he had to go use the restroom. He found some "Crystal Pepsi" while he was out and between that and the discovery a mislabeled compartment in the med kit, we were able to get Jason the ridaline that he needed and get him back into action. The medical anomalies definitely made the time in mission control more interesting, despite being less than completely true to life. They also provided for a good bit of entertainment over the course of the flight.
Much of the rest of the first half of the flight blends together. I know we had trouble opening the payload bay doors. It is important to get the doors open, as the radiators in the payload bay provide the cooling for the orbiter. Without being able to activate vent the heat (mostly produced by the fuel cells and other electronic equipment), the shuttle must abort the mission and return to earth. Fortunately, the cabin temperature remained stable, so the crew was not in any danger. I remembered that there was a manual hand crank somewhere in the payload bay that would allow the doors to be opened in just such emergency case, but I could find nothing in the technical books that provided the location of that crank. The ghosts were unhelpful as they thought it was an issue with the way the checklist for the procedure was accomplished. We finally decided to run through the procedure for closing the doors and then rerun through the procedure for opening the doors and that worked. I still believe this was a computer glitch rather than an anomaly that was given to us by the ghosts, as the cabin temperature remained steady at this time. We had various other medical anomalies on station including more lactose issues for flight, Capcom's pollen allergies acting up due to some flowers that were sent to flight by his Aunt Ethel (or maybe it was Myrtle) earlier in the mission. Unfortunately, when benadryl was given to the Capcom, he became sleepy agravating his narcolepsy. But we figured out most of these issues fairly quickly and gave Jason a lot of meds (mostly smarties candy, which turned out to be a nice rewards for his great acting abilities). During this time, the mission specialists accomplished their EVA (another satelite repair). After about 90 minutes, it was time to dock with the station. That meant that the crew in mission control became ISS (International Space Station) mission control, which necessitated a move to the ISS control room (on the second floor, adjacent to the wall of the UAT (underwater astronaut trainer) tank. And it was also time for Lucy and I to head out to accomplish our scuba eva.

We both got pre-dive physicals (temperature, blood pressure, pulse rate and a quick confirmation with the nurse that we're feeling okay as well as a nice conversation with a lovely woman who's been one of the nurses there for over 15 years) just in case something happened and I wasn't able to dive or in case Lucy was some how able to take part in a way other than just reading me the procedures. Then we headed up to the tank. Dana and her daughter....I want to say Stephanie but I'm pretty sure that's wrong, got me suited up and ready for the dive. This involved putting on a "space suit" which included a set of white coveralls, white boots (which were huge, a little floppy and kinda funky inside), gloves (fortunately fairly thin and with non-slip rubber dot type things on them) and the dive rig. Unlike when we dove on Tuesday evening, for this dive, I did not use a regulator to breath but rather had a bubble helmet (okay it had a regulator hooked up to it, but it wasn't in my mouth) that allowed me to not only breath, but see without using a mask and be able to communicate via a headset. The dive rig was cumbersome and kinda uncomfortable. The helmet had a metal collar with a rubber ting that fit tightly around my neck. The bubble helmet hooked into the ring. The collar was attached to a cord that wrapped around my back, between my legs and reattached to the front of the collar. Dana said that it was supposed to feel like a pretty big wedgie, which it did. Also, the collar pressed down pretty hard on my shoulder blades. The air tank was in a backpack that strapped tightly onto my back with another strap that wrapped around my hips. No padded back on this pack either. I don't know how much the entire system weighed, but it was a pretty good bit, even to me who is used to carrying a fairly heavy pack around many places. To say that the whole system was uncomfortable was a bit of an understatement. But, once I got into the water none of that really mattered. While I was definitely negatively bouyant (meaning, I sank), it wasn't impossible to move around. I think it was a combination that all the pieces of equipment had a bit of bouyancy to them and the fact that I just didn't really care because I was too busy with the entire experience, but once I got underwater (and got used to the sounds that my breathing made as well as the feel of the bubbles floating under the collar) I wasn't nearly as uncomfortable. Dana and I worked our way over to the ladder and I began a slow descent to the bottom of the pool. Clearing my ears was a bit easier this time, as it's much simplier to swallow when you don't have a regulator in your mouth. I didn't have to use the little nose pad (basically for sealing your nostrils shut) at all. It seemed like it took less time to descend than on my previous dive and before I knew it, my feet were firmly on the bottom of the tank. Dana had warned me that staying upright was the best course of action, as that would help to keep water out of my helmet (there was a way to blow it out, if it became an issue, but it sounded like it was better just to not let it get in there in the first place). So, I had to hop and jump my way across the pool to the far side of the structure so that I could begin my task of erecting a "solar array". As I moved around, it was neat to be able to talk with Lucy and share the experience at least verbally. The feeling was amazing. I knew I was underwater, but being able to breath and talk normally made it almost an unreal experience. That compared to the struggle of moving around in the bulky equipment and pushing against the water made the whole experience unlike anything I had ever done before. It really felt like I was on another world. But, I had work to do so I wasn't able to pause too long to contemplate the experience. Lucy talked me through the solar array erection. It wasn't difficult after I figured out how the connectors worked. But it would have been much easier had I seen a picture or at least the parts prior to the dive (I had no idea of the task before I got to the bottom of the tank). The hard part was trying to find a way to hold myself in place while I put the parts together. The part that the array was connected to was probably about eight feet off the bottom of the tank, so I had to swim/jump/climb/crawl up with each piece and then find somewhere to stand and somewhere to hold onto while I also needed a couple of hands to hold the pieces in place and work the connectors. I think I got a taste for why working in space is so difficult. If there's nothing to hold onto it's impossible to do much of anything. You can't use your own weight or leverage to do much (which I rely on a lot when I'm doing much of anything) because, thanks to Newton's law about actions and reactions, you just got off in the opposite direction. So, not only do you have to figure out a way to apply the required force, but you also have to figure out a way to counteract that force and keep yourself where you need to be. The erection of the solar array didn't take very long, but we still had a bit more time. There were some people at the windows of the tank, so I asked Dana if I could go over and wave to them. She said yes, so I bounced along and swam up the wall to reach the first set of windows. Holding onto what little of the rim I could reach, I waved at some camp kids in one window and then moved to the next. At this window there was a family with a small daughter. The girl was probably around 3 or 4 and seemed kinda confused to see this big bubble headed person (I'm told that the bubble made my head look really small) waving from the inside of this big fishbowl looking thing. Bill was out and about (apparently taking a break from mission control) and found me and took a couple of pictures with his camera. Dana helped me ascend some more and we made it to the second story windows where I got to look in on the ISS mission control crew. It took a bit of knocking on the window to get there attention, but finally someone looked up and noticed me in the glass. So we got to wave to each other and take some pictures. Then it was time for me to continue ascending and end my dive. Afterwards, Lucy said I was only down about 15 minutes. I had lost all track of time, but I knew it wasn't very long. Certainly it wasn't near long enough. We got all of my gear off and I got cleaned up and went for my post dive physical (although I forgot and drank a bunch of water on the way over to sick bay, so the nurse didn't even bother to take my temperature. Which was probably a good thing. I was at 99.4 degrees before the dive. And I'm sure my temp would have been up higher than that afterwards. Mostly that was all due to the walk over from the training center over to sick bay in the warm, September early afternoon.) I then headed back to ISS mission control in time to help gather up our gear and head down for lunch.

I was a bit bummed that we broke the simulation and all ate lunch in the cafeteria. In the past, we've been able to eat "on orbit", each group eating in the location where they are currently working. But it was neat to get to sit with everyone and chat and take a bit of a break from the mission. After lunch, it was back to work for the second half of the EDM.

The crew on the orbiter swapped positions, as did some in mission control. That took me a couple of seconds to figure out, especially as I kept turning to my right to look for Bill when he spoke(who had been filling the roll of prop) and not seeing him. He was now on my left, filling the INCO role. We also had to remember that with the changes in position, everyone's medical issues changed (the medical issues stay with the position). The biggest thing we had to deal with was that the lights were off in the orbiter. Some on the crew had flashlights with them and they broke those out so they were able to work the checklists and procedures while mission control tried to sort out the problem. I immediately went for the reference books, looking up the fuel cells. We noticed that Fuel Cell two was producing no power and had no flow of oxygen or hydrogen. We tried a few procedures to shut the cell down and restart it while I continued skimming and reading. I found a couple of schematics and started tracing systems. I don't remember exactly how we finally solved the issue, but I do know that I'm now pretty familiar with how the fuel cells work and how they are plumbed and wired. Meanwhile, we had some more medical anomalies. Capcom's narcolepsy kicked in. Adam, who had trained me on the station a few days prior wandered in, having noticed that someone had tossed some flowers outside the door and wondered if anyone wanted those. That set of Capcom's sneezing again (which meant more benadryl and another little nap for him) before we could kick Adam and the flowers out. We had a gas leak that took a bit of time to diagnose. Half the team collapsed while the others had no message that they were having any ill effects. I kicked into House mode (yes, the tv show) and surmised that it could not be an environmental effect since not all of us were affected. I dug through the medical book, looking for anything the affected team members had in common and even asked if they had all had the fish for lunch (no one either heard me or caught the Airplane reference, but I thought it was funny). Soon the rest of us started to feel bad and a sign with the number for the United Gas Supply mysteriously floated around the room (well, mysteriously if you were pretending that you couldn't see the Space Ghost). Jet, who had been the ghost when I was in station for Charlie mission, who is just back from maternity leave and has a beautiful baby girl, showed up as our gas worker. Somehow she passed out before fixing the leak. We were getting a bit fed up with things and decided to just leave her there. Meanwhile, Dennis fixed the leak, the crew recovered and we went back to the mission, leaving Jet lying on the floor. Not the nicest thing to do, but as I said, we were a bit frustrated with the medical anomalies (especially the ones that we weren't given quite enough information, especially information that would have been available in the real world, to be able to solve quickly). But it was still fun.

As we got on towards landing, we noticed that the temperature in the orbiter was rising (we'd fixed the lights by this time) and that Cori and Martin were acting oddly, dancing about and such. We surmised that it was possibly due to the heat and worked that problem (trying to turn off the heaters, turn on the air cooling, etc). Turns out, they were, originally just goofing off. At least until the Ghost decided that things were getting decidely too silly and made the decision that they both had space demensia. Cori's demensia manifested itself by extreme mood swings (apparently she's one you don't want to cross) while Martin became delusional. I think he decided himself that he was a pretty princess. That got Lucy (still the EVA position and the only one in communication with the mid-deck area) laughing and after she advised the flight director of this development over the mission control main loop, the rest of us joined in. I asked for clairification of he was a pretty princess or a pretty, pretty princess and by that time, the crew was wrestling Martin into an impromptu straight jacket. I don't think they quite got to duct taping him to a seat, but I don't think he got out of the jacket until after the orbiter landed. Meanwhile, we continued to work the heat problem until about 5 minutes from landing. At that point, we gave up, figuring that the crew could just sweat it out and pop the hatch upon landing. After a beautiful (although just barely on the runway, in the short direction) landing, Enterprise was home safely with the crew and our EDM was complete. The biggest challenge for our team for the week was over and it was all downhill from there.

We had a brief debrief as a team and then had some free time to spend in the museum or whatever. I headed outside with some others to see if Space Shot was open. When we found that it wasn't, some of the team rode G-Force (and centerfuge) while Jeremy and I tossed a frisbee around, trying to avoid space center paying guests and a team of academy kids from Costa Rica (Jeremy and I both have centerfuge issues. I knew about mine before starting camp. Jeremy learned at the AC centerfuge.) Then it was time for our second NASA speaker.

I don't remember the names of our speakers, but they were both not only incredibly smart physics geeks (at least five degrees between the two of them) but also sci-fi geeks. They showed some Star Trek clips and we talked about the technology and how it was used and such. It wasn't terribly interesting, but as some of us commented later, it was nice not to have to think for a while after the EDM. After about an hour, it was time to launch our rockets.

Rocket launch was a lot of fun. Everyone had at least one rocket to send off. We had a few engine issues, some complete failures, some spectacular successes and a few that were lost to the wooded areas around the launch site. My rocket had a beautiful first stage ascent but something went wrong with the second stage and the engine burned through the wall of the rocket and melted the parachute. I was able to recover all of the pieces, but the rocket would never fly again.

We had all agreed the previous day that we would change up our evening schedule slightly, moving Space Bowl to before dinner so that we could enjoy a meal not cooked by the cafeteria for our final dinner together. Space Bowl was fun and provided a chance to test our space trivia, joke around with each other and have some friendly competition. The results were not revealed until graduation, with the mission specialists barely eeking out the win to take home the extra t-shirt.

We took a few minutes to clean up before heading over to Landry's for seafood for supper. Both Ray and Reagan had vehicles, so they shuttled us all over to the restaurant and back. On the back to pick up the second crew, Jason thought he spotted what was left of Bruno's rocket on the road. As we headed back to the restaurant with the final crew, we found the spot and Jason jumped out and sure enough, it was Bruno's rocket. When we got to the restaurant, Jason swapped the rocket out for Bruno's silverware (which was wrapped in a napkin). Bruno was surprised and excited to see his rocket again. It was neat to get away from camp and relax and hangout as a team. Valerie, Jason, Casey and Lisa (another counselor who had been around during the week and helped train us on some of the sims) all joined us. The meal was excellent and the conversation wonderful. I collected some more pictures from people. And we ended the evening by enjoying our mission cake for dessert.

After the very large meal and very long day, we were all tired, so we headed back to the hab to start packing up our gear and heading to bed for our last night in the hab at the end of our last full day at camp as a team.

Space Camp - Day 6 - Airborne thoughts on the way home.

As I type this, I'm flying home from Huntsville (I'll have to post it later. No internet on the plane.). We're headed west, chasing the sunset and as we continue to climb, my ears are popping and clicking as the pressure in the cabin decreases. Sometimes on flights, I wonder why those around me are flying. Are they going to see family? Moving to a new locating? Traveling for business? Heading home? Tonight, the flight seems to be mostly full of business travelers. These men (and they're mostly men tonight) aren't hard to spot. Dressed in slacks and collared shirts despite the heat at both our departure and arrival locations, they're quiet and orderly. They know the drill. Some accomplish work on these flights, other read (tonight mass market paperback novels seem to be the book of choice), others doze. I never mind traveling with business travelers. They generally don't make a fuss about much. It's just another form of commuting to many. Routine in many ways.

I've always enjoyed flying at night. There's something about being up in the air as the sky darkens around you. I especially enjoy flying west into the sunset. It seems to take forever for that great big ball of light to dip below the horizon. And, since there's not a lot to do on the plane, other than the business of transporting me and my gear to another location, it's a great time to let my thoughts wander. And tonight, my thoughts are wandering in the directions of the future.

Earlier today, we were talking about how far aviation came in such a short time. In the span of less than 70 years, less than a lifetime, humans went from not being able to sustain powered, controllable flight to putting a man on the moon. It's amazing, when you think about it, But, then, in the next 35 (ish, yeah, I'm rounding) years, we haven't accomplished even half that much when it comes to aviation and space travel. I understand that priorities are different, and there's no cold war to win. The world's a different place. But part of me wonders if we haven't lost something, as a people, when we quit striving for more and more innovation in the fields of aviation and space exploration. Perhaps we have. Perhaps not. History is always studied in hindsight, while it must be lived without knowing what tomorrow will bring. But, especially since I've been surrounded and immersed in the space and rocket culture for the past week, I can't help but wonder where we could be in 10 or 20 years, if the space exploration once became and international priority.

And I think that's part of the point of Space Camp. There's a couple of signs mounted on buildings throughout the Space and Rocket Center that say "Through these doors walk the future astronauts, scientists and engineers". And that's true in many cases. I went to camp as a kid (multiple times) and now I design military airplanes. And I work with others who have also gone. There are astronauts in the astronaut corp who attended camp as kids. And I wonder what the kids who were at camp this week, and this summer will do when they grow up. Will they lead the nation and the world to more space exploration? Will they held design the next generation of aircraft and satellites? Will they walk on Mars and figure out ways to expand our reach into the heavens? I'd like to think so.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Space Camp - Day 6 - Graduation and Good-bye

I'm sitting in the Huntsville airport waiting for my flight home. (Just a note, free Wi-Fi is wonderful.) And, as has been the case many times this week, my head is kinda swimming. In some ways, this has been a very, very long week. I've gotten to do so much stuff. I've met people who were strangers six days ago who I now consider friends. I've conquered some fears and had my priorities realigned more than a couple of times. I've learned much about all things related to space, about myself and about other people. In other ways, it's been a very short week. Especially the past few days have felt like the time has just flown by. It's hard to believe it's Friday already and I'm coming home. In some ways, I'm ready to come home. In others, I want more time. As I said, my head is still swimming. I'll need some time for reflecting on everything that's happened. But, fortunately, I have the rest of the weekend to reacclimate to my real world. I'm going to need every minute of it (and probably a few more).

Today was graduation day. Breakfast was pushed back 30 minutes to allow us to pack up our gear and move out of our rooms. I didn't think it would take me that long to pack, so I set my alarm for 6:30, an hour before breakfast. I didn't plan to run as I didn't want to have to pack sweaty clothes (or at least that's the current excuse.) Turns out, I woke up about 6 and figured I wouldn't be able to get back to sleep. I was down in the bottom of the hab, my gear safely stowed in the Bravo Classroom (where we designed our team mission patch and built our rockets. This was our work room for the week.) by 7. I thought about wandering around to take some pictures around rocket park, but instead ended up just hanging out with the team as people filtered down. I also continued to collect pictures off people's memory cards. Once I get home and get a few that will have to be sent to me (from people who either took way too many pictures or who had Sony cameras, which I can't read the memory cards for), I'll burn DVDs of pictures and send them off to the team.

It's been neat getting to look at everyone's pictures. I find it especially telling to watch the evolution of people's pictures as the week progresses. At the start of the week, it's all pictures of the facilities and equipment. Then there's pictures of the camera's owners doing various activities. And, as the week continued to progress, the pictures became more group pictures, other people doing various activities or just hanging out. It's another picture (no pun intended) of our coming together as a team.

After breakfast, our last Space Camp meal, we headed to the Astrotrek building (I think that's the name. Astrotek maybe...I'll look it up.) for the 1/6th G chair and the MMU simulators. The 1/6th G chair was originally used by the Apollo astronauts to simulate walking on the moon, which has 1/6th the gravity of the Earth. This is one of my favorite sims as it's just fun to get to bounce around. They've added a lunar surface type runway area that you get to bounce down and back on using the three primary methods of lunar movement. Those are the bunny hop, the sideways hop and the slow motion jog. For me, once I get a little momentum going, I'm good to go. Bunny hopping and sideways hopping are a lot of fun. Slow motion jogging has never been my favorite. But it's still fun. I actually used some of the sideways hopping moving around the bottom of the UAT (underwater astronaut trainer) yesterday during my scuba EVA during the EDM (more on that later...possibly in another post). The MMU is a mockup of the manned maneuvering unit, the personal propusion jetpack type thing that was used for a time on shuttle missions to allow astronauts to move about during EVAs untethered to the orbiter. It is no longer used, as the system doesn't have a lot of backups, should the propulsion methods fail. If that were to happen, the astronaut could be stranded outside the reach of anything or anyone attached to the orbiter or, worse, drifting away from the orbiter. This simulator is a chair mounted on four pads that allow the whole contraption to hover above slightly above the floor. Joysticks on the unit allow control of roll (to 90 degrees in either direction, so you can't go upside down), pitch (the range isn't a lot, not really enough to notice) and yaw (turning the whole unit) as well as forward and lateral motion. This is one sim I hadn't done before, so it was neat to get to try it out. Unfortunately, I had to stay on my square of concrete and so I could only intimidate Martin (callsign Pretty Princess) rather than actually go after him (all in fun, of course). But it was still a lot of fun and I think everyone enjoyed the opportunity, although none more than April. She had seen the MMU in various brochures and on the web site and had been asking about it all week. It was neat to see her enthusiasm.

After the sims, we filled out evaluations of our week and then had time for the gift shop. I supplemented my tshirt and polo shirt collection as well as picking up a few gifts. I figure it's cheaper to buy it here than pay for shipping when ordering things online later. In the gift shop, I got a chance to briefly meet Jeremy's wife and three daughters (all redheads and very cute). It was a bit strange to see Jeremy in the husband and father mode, especially after working with him during all of the missions all week long. Required a bit of a mindset shift. That's happened a lot this week. Then it was time for graduation.

Graduation is always an interesting time. While it's fun to have a little ceremony and get awards and stuff, it's also the last official function for our team. While we will always be team Marshall, our time at camp had come to an end. There were some awards given at graduation. The team I was not on won the Area 51 award. My team joked a bit that we were just too good. We didn't have any real personality or communications problems to work through. And, of course, we annoyed the facilitators a bit with our successful completion of each mission. :) I'm sure the other team earned the award. The second award was for Space Bowl, the Jeopardy style trivia competition that we did on Thursday evening. The mission specialists won by a slim margin and took home the tshirt. The final award was the Right Stuff award. This is the personal award that goes to the trainee who best embodies the spirit of the program, the one who steps up to lead, encourages others and all of that. The award went to Jason (which didn't surprise me at all). Upon receiving the award, Jason said a few words about knowing how difficult the decision for who is to receive this award is (if you don't have your score card handy, he's a former counselor) and that while he was honored to have received it, there was another on our team who also embodied all that the program is about, who conquered a lot of obstacles and had an incredible week. And then he presented the award to April. There were more than a few misty eyes among the team. When Jason put the medal around April's neck, her face lit up so bright. She was so proud and excited and probably a little overwhelmed. It was a great gesture by Jason and one that I'm pretty sure everyone on the team agreed was the right thing to do.

After graduation, we started to say goodbyes and the team scattered a bit. Lucy had to catch her bus to the airport pretty quickly and a few people took off with their families. I joined Cori, Jason, Reagan, Bruno, Ray and Martin for lunch at the Mariott, as lunch at the cafeteria wasn't provided for us. It was nice to have some more time to hang out and chat about the week before heading home. And the food was pretty good.

By the time we had paid our bills and chatted for a bit, it was time for Bruno, Ray and Martin to catch their bus to the airport. I would have been on that bus (and on Martin's flight), had I taken the earlier flight home. But, I decided I might want a bit more time to hang out with people and prefered not to ask someone to fight rush hour traffic to come pick me up at the airport. And that turned out well (at least the extra time with some people bit. We'll see about the traffic bit in a few hours). Cori, Jason, Reagan and I wandered about the museum, did some things out in rocket park including riding Space Shot (which I had declined riding before, to ensure that it wouldn't mess with my head, stomach, ears or anything else and make me unable to dive). We enjoyed some ice cream (because we didn't get any at lunch today) and then wandered back to the hotel so that Jason, Cori and Reagan could get ready for helping out with the Be Ready camp mock disaster this evening. They will be injured (or possibly killed) in the mock disaster that the campers have been training all week to respond to. Apparently this is a camp put on by the Alabama TSA to teach twelve year olds respond to natural and man made disasters. For this disaster, the campers will have to handle the situation completely on their own (except for any safety situations, of course). There are to be bodies in the lake, simulated fires, medical and other emergency response teams that they will have to direct. It sounds pretty cool and something that I think I'd like to be a part of, even though I'm well beyond 12 years old. Once I get home, I'll have to look into getting CERT (community emergency response team) training. That sounds not only interesting but also very useful.

Then it was time for final goodbyes. I've come to realize especially recently that the goodbyes that are the hardest to say are the ones that mean the most. They're not supposed to be easy. Being seperated from friends and family is never fun, even if it's just people you've only known for a week. There were hugs all around and promises to keep in touch. In some cases, I know we will, at least for a time. In others, perhaps we will not. It's the way life goes and I've been through it many, many times. I hope to keep in touch with some of these people for a long, long time. I know that some will be people I think of fondly on occasion. And there will be some who will fade from memory fairly quickly. Again, it's just how this world works. How I long for the day when I won't have to say goodbye ever again....especially today. Cause there's no easy way to say goodbye. Perhaps some of us will be able to get together for another Space Camp adventure. I'd love to have any of team Marshall on my team at some point in the future.

Until that time, I've got lots of pictures and memories and we've got email and telephones, cars, airplanes and the US Postal Service. And I've got some more friends to visit.

Space Camp is a very special place and I've had another week. More thoughts later. Until then, I need to get ready to get on the plane to head towards home and back to my real life and the rest of my family.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Space Camp - Day 4 - The Calm Before the Storm

So, Day 4. Yesterday it was hard to believe that camp was half over. Today it's even harder to believe that it's almost all over. Tomorrow's the biggest day of camp. We do our EDM (Extended Duration Mission), what all of our shorter missions have been leading up to. As I mentioned yesterday, if all goes well, I will be doing a scuba EVA. And that will be very, very cool. Apparently that takes about 60-90 minutes total, the remainder of the time (EDM is six hours long) I'll be in mission control. I'll be filling the ACO role again. And there's still not a whole lot to do. That actually suits me just fine as I'll be able to help focus in on the anomalies that will inevitably come. But, enough about tomorrow. Let's talk about today.

If yesterday was about family and pushing limits, today was about resting up for what will come tomorrow, although we wouldn't have guessed that by looking at the schedule. We started the day with Charlie mission. For this, I was the station scientist. My job was to assist the station commander (Jeremy, we've been working together a lot this week) with various procedures (retracting the solar arrays and turning on the batteries when we arrived (since we were entering the night side of the earth, etc) and then do some experiments. Due to various anomalies (including one for which the prodcedure for fixing it was incorrect in the book that our mission scientist (the mission controler who is responsible for station) had was incorrect, we only had time for one experiment. So, we made a super ball. That was pretty cool. Although we didn't have a lot of time to play with it, as we had procedures to complete and the previously mentioned anomalies. Some might wonder why we had to rely on the mission scientist's checklist to fix our problems. The reason is that we, in the station, don't have the emergency procedures checklists. This is also the case for the orbiter. All of the books and, therefore, all of the fixes have to come from mission control. While this is not exactly the case in real life, it's part of the suspension of disbelief that we opperate under here at camp. The mission went well, as far as I know. Being in station, we were a bit isolated from everything going on in the orbiter and the rest of mission control. As we were told in training, for us, it was just another regular day in space. So, at least for the one hour missions, things are a little more relaxed in station.

After Charlie mission, we went right into Delta mission training. I was back in mission control, this time filling the propulsion officer (PROP) position. Prop monitors anything and everything to do with propulsion of the orbiter. If it can make something blow up, that's Prop's job. I've used the line, "I don't want to blow up" a lot this week (extra points if you know that's from Serenity...and it was in the trailer. Apparently, I'm the only Browncoat on my team, cause no one else has commented on it. But, no worries.) Today, I got to be more in charge of making sure that didn't happen, which was kinda cool. Mission training was pretty calm, as we'd all been in mission control before and only our positions had changed.

We had a bit of free time after training, so some of us wandered around Rocket Park a bit, went on Space Shot (like the Superman Tower of Power ride at Six Flags), tossed a frisbee around a bit on the mock-up of the lunar surface (that was pretty cool, although my disc now is a few micrograms lighter, as it got scratched up a few times) and then went to climb the "Martian wall" before our "history highlights" (time in the museum) as a team. Climbing the wall was fun. And, as a result of our time at the pamper pole yesterday, I was more bold in attempting to reach the upper parts of the section of the wall I was climbing (didn't make it, but I gave it a try) and it was fun and gave me a bit of exercise (no running this morning. I wanted to give my legs a break and recover from yesterday a little bit). Then it was time for lunch, but not before we filled the "Martian Explorer" simulator ride (very similiar to Star Tours or other motion based simulator type rides, although a little cheesier).

After lunch, we had our first guest lecturer of the day. This was a 90 minute talk by Ed Buckbee. He's the director of the Space and Rocket center, worked as a PAO (Public Affairs Officer) in the early days of the US Space Program and worked closely with Werner von Braun to develop Space Camp. Mr. Buckbee gave a great lecture about some of the history of the space program, more from the human side. He talked a lot about the astronauts and some of the contributions that the city of Huntsville has made to the space program (mostly, the rockets were designed, built and tested here). We also received signed books that Mr. Buckbee wrote with Wally Schirra, one of the original Mercury Seven astronauts and a moon walker.

After a bit of a break, we headed off for our Delta Mission. I have to admit, I was a little bored. The mission went fairly smoothly. Everyone was familiar with their positions and we kept on the timeline well. We had very few anomalies. I got to the point where I jumped to the ready when I overhead the mission scientist call out a station anomaly. Orbiter anomalies require three people in mission control to agree on the solution before the flight director gives the okay to proceed. Station anomalies are solved by the mission scientist and the team on the station pretty much alone (they can ask for help if they need to, but rarely do). By the end, we were all mostly joking around. So, it was fun, but not terribly exciting.

After Delta Mission was done, we decided on our positions for the EDM. There was little debate over who would go where amongst the mission specialists. Lucy (my backup for the scuba EVA) and I are required to take the positions of ACO and EVA respectively. About half of the remaining six team members didn't have a lot of preference where they would go. Apparently the pilots had a bit more of a discussion. But, in the end, I don't think they even had to resort to rock, paper, scissors to figure out where everyone would end up.

With our EDM positions determined we headed up to our main classroom to meet with the museum currator and archivist. I don't remember her name, but she was a wonderful woman who takes great pride in her job of not only leading the effort to gather artifacts and preserve what the museum has, but also in achiving various pictures, papers and anything else that's around. Her job is very hands on and she had some great stories about various things. Mostly she talked about the Saturn V conservation effort (the museum has a Saturn V test vehicle. It's the real thing, but it was built to be tested rather than to actually be flown. There are, I think, three or four actual Saturn V rockets still remaining. Johnson Space Center in Houston has one. There's one at Kennedy Space Center. The Space and Rocket Centere here has one. And I think there may be another...somewhere...Smithsonian maybe?). These amazing machines were never meant to last 30+ years, especially not sitting outside in the elements. But they have. And some people believe it's important to preserve them for future generations to see. Additionally, since the new space ventures (which will lead up to the US returning to the moon and hopefully going to Mars for the first time) are using many of the same basic technologies as were used on the Apollo missions (that's the missions where we went to the moon), various engineers from both NASA and various contractors have had questions about the Apollo mission hardware and have come to the Space and Rocket Center asking for questions and to inspect various parts of the Saturn V (among other artifacts). That was a neat lecture.

Next it was EDM training. Again, for mission control, there wasn't a lot of additional information to take in. For our EDM, after about the first two hours, the orbiter will dock with the station and everyone will hang out in station for about 90 minutes. During that time, mission control will become ISS control (we even get to move to a different room). I believe this may be when I get to do my EVA (don't trifle me with the facts that I'm in mission control and then will be doing my EVA in space. Just go with it. :) ). After about 90 minutes, the orbiter will undock from the station and will return to Earth. But, the interesting catch is that the orbiter will be operating on a timeline that mission control will generate while everyone is hanging out in station. I don't think it will be a particularly difficult task. I started working on it a little bit before Casey (our night counselor who did our training and who may be helping out run mission control tomorrow) took it away from me, cause that's something we're supposed to do tomorrow. We will also be presented with "thinking anomalies". Up to this point, all of our anomalies have been "buzzer anomalies". Buzzer anomalies are lights that light up (there's not actually a buzzer in the sims here, which is kinda a bummer). And each anomaly can be resolved by finding the procedure in the book (which isn't always as obvious as it sounds) and following the procedure (which hopefully, but not always, is correct). We've all gotten pretty good at solving buzzer anomalies. And, while there will, most likely be some that happen tomorrow, most of our anomalies won't have such easy solutions. We'll have to think more about the various orbiter systems and what might be causing the issues. Some of these may be generated based on things we do on the orbiter or station (like forgetting to put a checklist book away might cause it to float off and cause problems down the line. Cause you can't just leave things laying around in space. Without gravity, things don't just lay where you put them.) There will almost certainly be medical anomalies (each position has various medical issues. As ACO, I have low blood pressure, but no allergies. Dennis, who is playing INCO in mission control (I forget what the acronym stands for at the moment. Communications Officer is the last two words.) will be allergic to chocolate and hypoglycemic. So, no chocolate chip cookies at lunch for him. And there will be various other things going on. I think our team has a good chance of doing well at solving these anomalies. We have a number of return trainees and at least a couple of us are in mission control, so that should help. We also continue to work well as a team. So I don't anticipate there being any problems we can't solve. It may take up a while. But, overall, I think things will go well.

EDM training was followed by a quick dinner and then a chance to build model rockets. While I've always been on teams that have built rockets before, we've always built them as a team and I haven't done a lot of the work (there's always been at least one model rocket buff on the team who has some neat ideas for making something that's cool. So we go with that.) This time, we all got our own rocket kits (two a piece) and were told to do what we wanted. About half the team decided just to build the basic rocket. And that's what I did. My yellow and black (closest I could get to Georgia Tech colors) two stage rocket is currently sitting, drying in our team classroom. If the weather holds, we should get to launch them on Friday.

Our final activity of the evening (other than returning to finish our rockets) was RTLS. This is Return to Launch Site. Since we've been training in "Houston" all week, we had to head to Kennedy Space Center for our launch. So we headed over to Aviation Challenge to fly the sims again. There wasn't time for everyone to fly, so half the team flew and the other half rode backseat. I rode with Bruno who did a great job of flying. I even had him doing a few bits of flight test maneuver blocks as we headed for the Cape. He completed the landing on his first attempt and we were good to go.

All together, this was the most laid back day since Sunday (which was only a partial day). It was nice to have some "down time" (as down as it was) and some chances just to hang out as a team, especially before our big day tomorrow.

Some other things to note today.
Jeremy has been given the callsign "Cheater". During Delta Mission, Jeremy was in mission control as EVA (monitoring and calling out the procedures for the EVA going on in the orbiter). On all the previous missions, no team of mission specialists has been able to complete the full EVA procedure and replace both ailing antennas on the satelitte. Cori and Lucy were our mission specialists this mission and the counselor assisting them let them cut a few corners (start getting suited up a little earlier, etc). They also decided to change up who did all of the procedures Cori, who was on the Canada Arm, flipped all the switches. This actually makes a lot more sense, but it doesn't give the MS in the harness a whole lot to do but retrieve the antennas and float around (which would have been fine with me and Lucy was cool with it). So, Jeremy spent a reasonable portion of the mission calling them a couple of cheaters (I joined in as well, as I was sitting beside Jeremy in mission control. Although I couldn't hear their side of the conversation as I wasn't on their comm loop.). Lucy and Cori picked up on this and have started calling Jeremy "Cheater". He takes it well and a few of the other team members have picked up on it. I'm guessing the name won't stick after he gets home (Jeremy is married with three kids, so that probably wouldn't go over well) but it is kinda neat that we're close enough of a team to give each other nicknames.

Apparently, it's unusual for teams not to be excited about flying the sims at Aviation Challenge. We have a few people who enjoy them, but no one is really gung-ho about the whole ordeal.

Tomorrow's a bit later of a day. Breakfast (steak and eggs, the traditional astronaut pre-launch breakfast) isn't until 8am. But I'm hoping to get a good solid run in tomorrow morning. So it's bed time for me. Big day and I want to be well rested.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Space Camp - Day 3 - Half way and stretching my limits

Wow! Hard to believe that Space Camp is halfway over already.
Another jam packed day. I'm getting a late start on this today, so I don't know how long this will be. I want to say I'll start with the highlights, but there were a lot today. So, I'll go with themes. One theme was pushing limits. The other was Marshall team becoming more of a family.

Pushing Limits
Today was a lot about pushing limits for a lot of us.
Early this morning was training for Bravo mission. I was ACO - Assembly Control Officer, a mission control position that helps to monitor and check on the EVA that's going on on the orbiter. This is not the person who talks to the MSs doing the EVA and directs them. Really, there's not a ton to do on this position and I was a bit bummed when I realized this. But I knew that it's a part of the team and every person is important (and all that stuff that they tell you, but it really is true). After a break where we got to ride the MAT (Multi-axis trainer, the thing that has the three rings and spins around. That's fun. Not REALLY fun, but fun enough for a 45 second or so ride.) we came back and did Bravo mission. It turned out to be a lot of fun for me. Since I didn't have a lot to do, I was able to help out Buck (yes, Buck Rogers....I still smile every time I say his name) who was the EVA (directing the EVA happening on the orbiter) and keep an eye on the screens. I spent a lot of time reading ahead in the mission script and clicking around on the different screens to see what was going on. Since I had my eyes on the screens most of the time, I was able to catch the anomalies (and there were quite a few of them) about as quickly as they came up. Since I'm familiar with the idea of emergency procedures (than you previous trips to Space Camp and many flight test briefings where we go over the "Emergency Procedure of the Day") I was able to pretty quickly find the anomaly in the MAD (mission assistance mumble...something...I'd call it a combination brain and EP book) and quickly make recommendations to the flight director for fixes for the anomalies. I also got the idea of, once a solution was agreed upon, pulling the page for that fix out of my MAD book (three ring binder) and passing it down to our Capcom (who is the only person who can talk to the flight deck), who was often busy working on other things and wasn't always able to keep up with the anomaly fixes, along with our recommended fix. This saved time as he didn't have to flip around in his book. So, while I've often thought of mission control as not being as interesting, I found it a lot of fun this time around.

Later in the afternoon, we went over to Area 51 to do the pamper pole. This is a 30 foot tall, free standing telephone pole with a 12 inch diameter piece of three quarter inch ply screwed into the top of it. With three safety ropes attached to you and your team belaying those ropes, you climb to the top on first a ladder (that gets you about 8 feet off the ground) and then on large staples hammered into the pole. Upon reaching the top, you have to figure out a way to get standing on top, stand up straight, turn around 180 degrees and then jump off, theoretically trying to touch a white rope hanging about 6 feet in front of you. I've had the opportunity to do this type of element on previous occasions, but I have never done it. Always been too chicken. However, as with everything else, the folks at Area 51 are amazing. Everyone who goes harnesses up, regardless if you are going to climb or not. They have a good system of working people through a line belaying and then waiting to climb such that, except for the first person, there's no volunteering. You climb when it's your turn. Chuck (call sign Bojangles, an amazing man), who design and built ARea 51 was helping to facilitate our team's time there and he was great at motivating people. He never pushed too hard, but he did push. His goal was to get you to go one step farther than you thought you could. And he did a great job. Some people only got up to standing on the staples. Some only got part way up. Some got to the top but didn't stand. And all of that was okay. Most of us got all the way up and stood on top. I was the last to go. I thought this would be difficult for me, as usually if I think about stuff too much I'll think myself out of going. But, the way things go, it was just natural when my time came up. I was strapped in and up I went. I took it slow and steady climbing up and that wasn't a big deal. The fact that I just kept my eyes directly in front of me, focused on the pole helped. Right arm up, left arm up, right foot up, left foot up, repeat. Then I got to the top. This was where I knew I would have trouble. Balancing wasn't the big deal for me. Thanks to months of balance work at the gym, I feel comfortable with my balance, the standing up on the top of the pole (remember, there's nothing to hang onto up there other than the piece of plywood and your ownself), that was where it god difficult. Thanks to my morning runs (oh yeah, I went running again this morning) and lots of walking and stair climbing, my legs have gotten pretty tired. So I was worried. But I knew I had my team behind me (literally, I could feel the ropes they were belaying me on) and I knew that if I fell, I wouldn't fall far (a big improvement over most pamper poles where you might fall up to 5-8 feet before the rope catches you. That might not sound like much, but when you're 30 feet in the air, it's a lot). Chuck had talked to Bruno (who went before me) and reinforced to me that no matter what, I was coming back down to the ground (in a controlled manner), so why not take the chance and, if I was going to fall, fall going for the top. So, after some hesitation and some convincing my muscles to give it a go (although not as much as I would have thought), I made it up. The feeling of that was amazing. Hearing my team cheer for me was great too. Turning around was easy (I think the key is not to look at your feet, just trust that the wood's not going to go anywhere). Then it was time to jump. Normally, when I'm on a ropes course, it takes a lot to get me to actually step or jump of a stable platform. This time, I thought about it for a few seconds and then just went. I knew my team would catch me. I knew I wouldn't fall far. I didn't make much of an attempt to try to hit the rope (they don't even want you to try to catch yourself on the rope, just hit it). By that time my legs were all but gone. And then I was swinging in the air and then descending to the ground. After we got unharnessed, we did some debriefing. I looked around and realized that the faces of these people I call my team had changed. They had become more familiar. I was used to them. We weren't just 16 individuals anymore. We were truly becoming a team. And, more than that, we were becoming a family. This is a great group of people. We work together amazingly well. Even April is well accepted by everyone. Just a great group. About a week before camp, I picked up a new rock (when God impresses something important on my head and my heart, I like to have something tangible to remind me regularly of that, to help work the truth into my heart. So, I pick up a rock and carry it around with me.) This rock reminds me that there's more than one kind of family. As we were walking up to the bus, I reached in my pocket and felt my rock. And realized that this is yet another type of family. (And that's the second theme. No separate paragraph. So I type without planning out exactly what I want to say. It's my blog.)
Our final event of the evening was the MS time in the scuba tank. I've never scubaed before. Last time I had the opportunity at camp, allergies kept me from even being able to attempt. Because my ears have always been slow to clear and because this was something very new for me, I was more than a bit nervous. But I kept going through the lesson time (about 45 minutes working on a four foot deep platform where you learn and practice the basics with the instructor). And then it was time for me to dive. Lauren, another instructor, took me down. I had to descend very slowly, as my ears did take a while to clear. But they did. And wow was it fun. It's like playing in a swimming pool, but you never have to come up for air. Just amazingly cool. I got to play with a 100 lb, neutrally bouyant ball. So, you can move it around, hold it on one finger, learn more about Newton's laws of physics and all that. Then we contrasted that by playing with a toypedo. Which is hard to throw with your feet (although I tried) but fun to stop with your head. Lucy, who was down with Max our dive instructor the same time I was on the bottom, and I built a large tetrahedron structure. That was fun and not as easy as you'd think. It's a good simulation of working in space, cause there's nothing to push against to get leverage. If you try, you end up pushing yourself around. I'm used to being able to use my own weight for leverage, so I had to quickly learn to work in different ways. And I got to launch an air rocket (just turning a bunch of valves in the right sequence, but it's still kinda fun). I was in the first group to go to the bottom and apparently I spent 25 minutes under water. It's hard to believe it was that long. It seemed like so much longer. I was never scared or really worried, except when my leg started to cramp up. But I quickly realized what was going on and with Lauren's help, massaged it out and went back to work. And even then, I kept a level head and I think I did a good job. Max must have too. I was hanging around the top of the tank (after taking pictures of Bill, Marlon and Corey (Jason's wife) as they worked and played on hte bottom) and after Bill came up, Max asked if I had ever dove before. I said I hadn't. He asked if I'd like to. I said I would. He said that Thursday was my day. During the EDM, I will again be filling the position of ACO and also getting to do a "wet" EVA. This EVA includes wearing a "hard hat" or bubble helmet, which will allow me to breath without a regulator and be able to talk via a microphone. It should be an amazing experience and I'm really looking forward to it. If for some reason I'm not able to dive, Lucy is my backup, but I really hope I'm able to.

And I think that actually covers most of the activities for today.
Another jam packed day but a great one. Best yet. Space Camp still isn't as good as RYM last year, but it's approaching RYM this year very quickly.
Tomorrow's a big day. Charlie and Delta missions. I'm in the station for Charlie. Not sure of my position for Delta, a couple of different guest lecturers. We'll have to decide on our positions for the EDM (although mine is already chosen) and have our final training for that. And I think there's some more activities. It's going to be a jam packed day and I'm greatly looking forward to it. Not sure if I'll get up and run tomorrow morning. Have to see how I feel when I wake up. May just end up sleeping in a bit, or going walking and taking some pictures.

Speaking of pictures, here's some:
Jeremy, Corey, Jason (callsign Tiller) and me at Aviation Challenge, after flying the F-18 sims last night.


In the tank, right before instruction time started.


Me, in the scuba tank, working on our tetrahedron.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Space Camp - Day 2

Space Camp, Day 2 is winding down and I'm back in my bunk at the Hab for the night.
Another jam packed day. Last night I was debating reviving my standard "up in the morning for some exercise" routine that I generally try to do when I'm traveling (at least traveling in the US. I don't normally do that when I'm on mission trips.) I figured I would see how I felt in the morning.
I didn't sleep great last night (had some trouble falling asleep, which isn't unusual for my first night in a new place), but at around 6am, when Reagan (my roommate) got up, I decided I probably wasn't going to really get any more qualty sleep. So I got up and went for a jog. With the help of my ipod, I jogged around Rocket Park (outside area where all the rockets are) for a bit, did some situps and pushups under Pathfinder (the full scale Space Shuttle complete with SRBs (Solid Rocket Boosters), ET (External Tank) and Orbiter (what people normally call the Space Shuttle) which was built by NASA so that they could practice moving the thing around before they got the real thing.) and then headed back to the Hab to shower and get ready to start the day.
After breakfast (the food's not half bad. It's still cafeteria food, but it's reasonable. Maybe half a step below the food at RYM...and not quite as many vegetables. But they had lots of grapes at both lunch and dinner, so I'm making up for the lack of veggies with lots of fruit.), we trained for the first of our one hour missions. There are four of these and they all lead up to our 6 hour EDM (extended duration mission. Yes, we speak in acroynms here.). For the Alpha mission, I was assigned to the MS2 (mission specialist 2) position. That position is in the orbiter (space shuttle, we're using the Enterprise shuttle. Which is the same orbiter sim that I used when I was came for Level II so many years ago.). The job of MS2 is to work with MS1 (Jeremy from Iowa in this case) and repair a Westar communications satelite. The repair involves replacing two antennas. As we learned many times in training, there are four steps in any repair. Deactivate, repair, reactivate and run a diagnostic. Skipping any part can lead to problems. For the mission, to simulate the weightlessness of space, I got to strap into a sky diving harness and "float" around the cargo bay, helping with the repair, stowing the bad antennas and retrieving the good ones and basically doing a lot of the leg work that MS1, who is on the end of the Canada (robotic) arm can't reach with the arm. MS2 is one of my favorite positions. I love "floating" around the cargo bay. So much fun. So I was excited to get to do this.
After training, we watched the IMAX movie "The Dream is Alive". Narrated by Walter Cronkite, this movie talks a lot about space shuttle missions, some about the training and the people who are involved. It's probably my favorite IMAX movie. So, at this point, I was having a great morning.
Next up was our time at Area 51. We split into two teams of eight people (although not along "track" lines, which worked out okay) and went through a series of low ropes team building activities. My team worked incredibly well together and really frustrated the facilitators a bit, as there wasn't really a lot for us to work on. We were able to complete each "mission" in the alloted time (15 minutes), including completing the final one in under 5 (which Jerry (callsign Jumpman), our main facilitator said was possibly quicker than the time that the facilator team did it in.) I was very pleased with how we all worked together, listened to each other and were able to complete even very difficult tasks. I got to be team leader for one of the missions. That mission was to get our full team, and an injured team member (I called him George, short for George P. Burdell, the Georgia Tech any student) from one platform to another. The platforms are connected by a wire, which you have to haul yourself across while wearing safety harnesses and such. The trick is that there's only two sets of safety equipment and one 50 foot rope. Only one person can cross at a time and George can't be left alone. I think the planning could have gone better, we did have one team member who made a second trip and we had to throw the rope one time. But it still went well. I relied heavily on the skills of my team and our resourcefulness and flexibility to get the task accomplished. And it worked. Area 51 was a lot of fun and I'm glad that we had an opportunity to complete it. I think it helped to bring our team closer together (in many ways. On the final mission we had to move all of our team from one platform to another, but we all had to be on one platform or another, or on the boards crossing the platforms at all times. So we did a lot of standing really close and hugging each other. I think we've got pictures. Hope Jeremy's wife doesn't mind.
Next was lunch, our group photo and a chance to start on the design of our group mission patch. Jason took charge of the mission patch design (he and his wife are here for their 10 year wedding anniversary. They met when they both worked here as counselors.) and while we didn't get the design completely finished in our allotted hour, we came up with something that I think will look great.
Finally it was time for our Alpha mission. Communications problems seemed to plague the whole team and I don't think anyone felt really good about the whole event. Jeremy and I were only able to replace one antennae in the time allotted and, as it was, we still didn't make it back inside the orbiter in time for the landing (we suspend disbelief a lot in the one hour missions, especially when it comes to timeline stuff.). While people were a bit frustrated, everyone still had a good time and we're all looking forward to a chance to improve.
After our mission we had our introduction to scuba diving lecture and dinner. Then the two tracks split. The pilots went to scuba and the mission specialists (that's me) went over to Aviation Challenge to fly the simulators and ride the centerfuge. The AC sims are more difficult to fly than the JSF simulator. The stick is very much a motion as opposed to a force stick. And the aircraft (an F-18 F) seems very underdamped. So the controls were touchy. I did manage to fly reasonably well, not crash and accomplish a landing on a real runway (didn't go into the grass at all). Although I flew past the runway a lot of times and, at one point, got frustrated and decided to fly out over the ocean and do a few maneuver blocks to vent some of that. My time in the JSF sim and just my general understanding of how airplanes fly and what's important was very helpful. Not everyone enjoyed it quite so much, although everyone was laughing at the end of our time.
I decided not to ride the centerfuge. I've done them before and I just don't enjoy the experience, especially not the minor queasiness after the ride is over. But others did enjoy it. We had a bit of time after we got done at the centerfuge and we got a bit of a tour of some of the aircraft on static display at AC. I had never been able to get up close to a harrier before, so that was a neat experience for me. I also got to see an F-111 and an A-6 Intruder (which is what my senior design aircraft was very similiar to). That specific A-6 had a confirmed kill of a Russian Mig....something...37? in the Vietnam war. Jason (callsign Tiller) was very knowledgable about the aircraft and you could tell military aviation is a passion of his. So that was a neat time. And that ended the day's activities.

Some thoughts on the day and the week.
- The program that I'm going through is definitely less academic than it was on my previous trips. This might be better for kids, but I don't think it's as good for adults.
- One hour does not seem long enough for a short mission, especially for early in the week when there are communications and logistics issues to be worked out. On previous trips, I believe these missions were two hours.
- Area 51 is very cool. They've done a great job with building this area and the facilitators are top notch. Apparently this area was completely rebuilt last year.
- Casey our night counselor and Valerie our day counselor are both great. They hang out with us, keep track of us, listen to our issues and do everything they can to give us the best experience possible. You can tell that they love their jobs and especially like hanging out with adults.
- Our team is starting to come together more. There are definitely different groups who click better than others. But we all seem to work together well and enjoy each other's company. There's no real dominating personalities and no major annoyances.
- We do have one team member, April, who has some special needs. She's functioning on probably the level of a late elementary school student. But she's doing well. Everyone is working well with her, some more actively than others, and the counselors are helping out tons. I think it's helpful that we've got two female counselors, both of whom have worked with the younger age groups in the past. We are having to make some allowances, especially in terms of mission positions (she's very afraid of heights and would not do well in the orbiter), but the staff is working hard on that and everything is going well.
- I had a lot of expectations coming into this week. Some of them are being met, others are not. So far, this week hasn't been better than RYM last year and probably not quite as good as RYM this year. But it's still a lot of fun and I'm having a great time.
And that's it for another day here.