Our orientation begins ahead of schedule; it seems grown-ups who attend Space Camp tend to arrive early. There are only two firm rules for adult campers: no peanuts on campus, and please do not get naked, because kids might show up. We are also told about a nearby hotel bar, for those interested in socializing after-hours. One of the best things about adult Space Camp is being treated like an actual adult.
Over this weekend-long experience, we are to perform two “missions,” with everyone getting a chance to be an astronaut on the ship, or a scientist in mission control. My first assignment is to run the GNC, or Guidance, Navigation, and Control—basically to check the weather and track the ship’s simulated movements.
Oh yes, the ship. The mock control room, spaceship, and International Space Station are filled with screens, switches, and buttons, and each team has, essentially, free rein to run around and get a feel for the mission. We fully indulge the impulse to touch everything, and send selfies back to jealous family and friends.
After a few get-to-know-you exercises, it’s on to the multi-axis trainer. Meant to simulate what it might feel like to spin out weightlessly in space, the trainer is a chair within a ring within a ring within a ring; it reminds me of a futuristic version of da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. The initial release of the chair is comforting, like being rocked in a hammock. But then Davis kicks on the power, and it’s 45 seconds of flips and twists. Yet there’s no nausea—your stomach stays in the same place the whole time. It’s slightly disorienting to step down, but no worse than wearing a pair of new glasses. Still, sleep feels very earned come nighttime.
We begin day two with breakfast at 7:30 am, then head down to the one-sixth gravity chair—basically the main attraction. Your weight on the moon is one-sixth of what it is on Earth, and this machine re-creates the feel of the lunar atmosphere. You’re seated in a chair like one you’d find on a roller coaster where your legs are loose, only it’s attached by large, taut springs to a runner on the ceiling. It’s beyond dreamy to hop along the fake moonscape, and otherworldly to watch your teammates float; Davis says a lot of kids ask how much it costs. I almost ask myself.
We are then ready to embark upon our first mission. Davis runs the simulation, and takes it pretty easy on us. It’s a little intimidating, but when you’re wearing a headset and reporting on numbers, you can’t help but feel professional. We overshoot the shuttle landing, but we’ll get another chance in the afternoon.
Next, we move on to the museum to watch a Jennifer Lawrence-narrated IMAX movie, A Beautiful Planet. Incredibly, one of the astronauts in the film, Samantha Cristoforetti, was a Space Camp graduate herself. In fact, five Space Camp graduates have become real-life astronauts, and they’re all women: Cristoforetti, Christina Hammock Koch, Serena Auñón, Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, and Dr. Kate Rubins—currently aboard the ISS, and the first person to sequence DNA in space.