Easter Trip to USA, April 2007
|We'd already been planning on visiting Kennedy Space Center even before I discovered the Astronaut Training Experience on their website. We booked in... and here we are! The drive from Orlando was pretty straightforward (about an hour) and we were greeted by the instructors with our polo shirts and team assignments. Sweet.|
|There were about two dozen people there, divided into two teams. One team looked to be all from the same company, there on some team-building exercise. Our team was mostly tourists, with a fairly high international contingent (Brits, Aussies, Germans). I was the only girl on our team. The instructors explained everything we'd be doing and gave us a little tour. Here's the Snook and I in front of the shuttle simulator.|
And here's the awesome part: For our big mission simulation, six of the team would be on board the shuttle simulator while the others acted as Mission Control. The instructors were going to draw names out of a hat to assign the jobs. First up was Shuttle Commander (aka Tate Donovan's role), who has to actually pilot the shuttle and be in charge of everything. And who got that job? Oh, THE SNOOK. I fell over laughing. The next job was Pilot (aka Lea Thompson's role), who actually doesn't pilot the ship but who does sit next to the Commander and help out. And who got that job? ME. I WAS DYING, FOLKS. WE WERE GOING TO GET TO FLY THE DAMN SHUTTLE. I was bursting all day.
|Anyway, we next had a short tour of the Astronaut Hall of Fame so we could familiarize ourselves with the history of the space program. Then we boarded a bus and headed over the causeway to the main visitor's centre. One main theme throughout the day was the scrapping of the shuttle program in favor of the original Apollo-style "capsule on top of a rocket" idea. Here we are waiting to get patted down by Security before heading in to our "Lunch with an Astronaut."|
|Shuttle Butter. SHUTTLE BUTTER. How can you not love that?|
The lunch was excellent, by the way. We were joined by John Blaha, an astronaut and fighter pilot who, amongst his many other accomplishments, spent four months aboard the Russian Mir space station. He was really cool, just telling us what it was like to be in space and answering our questions.
|And here we are with John Blaha after lunch!|
|The other big topic of the day was the International Space Station. On our VIP tour of the Center, we got to walk through this mock-up of one of the ISS modules. Here I am with the toilet.|
|And here's Snookums and the shower.|
|This is an actual ISS module that they're preparing to take into space. Does that blow anybody else's mind? This funny silver can is going to get loaded into the shuttle's payload bay, shot into space, and then screwed on to the existing structure (which is apparently about 60% finished). People are going to live in this. People are going to head to Mars from this. Isn't that nuts? (I was also amazed at how casual the NASA folks were about us taking pictures. "Oh, yeah, go ahead! Whatever you like!")|
|The Launch Pad. This is apparently as close as any civilians ever get, and it's way closer than the gantry the normal tourists have to stop at. Our tour guide Bob was great at answering all our questions about the shuttle. Apparently there are only a few flights left - mostly just to finish taking up the bits of the ISS - before the shuttle is scrapped completely.|
|And here we are at last: OUR MISSION TO THE ISS! Everybody had a script with lines and actions to be performed. The Snook and I really did have to find and flip switches on those panels and enter in commands on the computer. Every so often there'd be a "BOOOOP! BOOOOP! BOOOOP!" alarm warning and Mission Control would have talk us through putting out a fire or something. It was rather stressful, to be honest. One of our "Mission Specialists" took this photo of me in the pilot's seat.|
|Here's Shuttle Commander Snook. Yeah, he's crapping himself. Our instructors had informed us that he'd be bringing us in for our landing manually (using just the stick). Folks, he did spectacularly! We landed just fine. The only blot on our mission at all was that we left two astronauts out in space... but in our defense, they were taking too long. It was a tough call.|
|While the other team did their mission, we got to play on the simulators. First up: the Multi Axis Trainer. Folks, I've been wanting to do this ever since I was twelve years old. And yeah, I was the first one to step up. Our instructor explained as he strapped me in that, since your stomach is the center of the rotation, you don't puke. Theoretically. Here we go!|
|I didn't have to try to contain the spin or anything; I was just along for the ride. Here I am flipping upside-down. It's a crazy feeling! You have no way of knowing which way you're about to spin. I managed to go about 45 seconds before I asked them to stop. I am extremely happy to report that I had ZERO feelings of pukiness afterwards. Seriously. There just wasn't any nausea. So that was good! (The Snook still decided to pass on this one.)|
|Here's Snookums getting strapped into the 1/6th Moon Gravity Simulator. Basically, you're attached to a bunch of bungee cords and springs that make you move as if you're on the moon.|
|BOUNCE, BOUNCE, BOUNCE! Apparently it was really hard to get any momentum going. I think Snookums looks like a puppet here.|
|Snookums feeds Dippin' Dots to his robot buddy. SNOOKUMS AND JINX, FRIENDS FOREVER!|
|Much, much too soon, it was time to graduate. Here's me getting my certificate and goodies.|
|And here's the Snook. Afterwards we hit the Gift Shop to load up on Space Swag before heading back to Orlando.|
In case you can't tell, I completely and heartily recommend the ATX Program for anybody wanting to live out their space fantasies. The instructors and tour guides were excellent, enthusiastic and knowledgeable about all aspects of the space program. Lunch was great, as was the talk by John Blaha. For the time being, it's as close as you or I are going to get to being astronauts!
Easter Trip to USA
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