Day 5 at Space Camp

The Von Lions team awoke this morning groggy from their late night Escape and Evasion mission (which they successfully completed without TOO many captured teammates) and rolled their suitcases, duffel bags and exhausted bodies to the cafeteria to eat their final meal as a team. They laughed and hurriedly signed what they liked most about Space Camp, who they’d miss and how social media will keep them connected. Tears were shed and hugs were shared……..and then it was time to graduate.20140502-144714.jpgAs they marched proudly towards their graduation, thoughts must’ve circled their heads; “Can I?” “Will I?” “What if” are but a few, but as they gazed into the Alabama morning sun, the wheels were definitely turning. They had not only completed a week as an astronaut, but had completed it well, with obstacles (planned and unplanned) thrown their way, missions which amassed anomalies, and even engineered (with great ability) space suits, water purification devices and rockets!

20140502-144721.jpgThe Von Lions proudly stood as the National Anthem was played overhead and they silently and respectfully waited as other astronauts in training proceeded to the stage. Their team was called, they all rose in unison and valiantly took their place on the stage in front of fellow astronauts, parents, interpreters and teachers…….now was their time.

20140502-144810.jpgEach recently dubbed astronaut received their proper graduation certificate, accolades and team patch that they’d design as a conglomerate. This conglomerate didn’t know it’s parts just 5 days prior, nor did it know the hurdles it would overcome, but they had done it. The Von Lions team were now officially astronauts.


In addition to the wide-toothed smiles, joyous tears, high fives and hugs, the Von Lions team was applauded and recognized for their extraordinary grasp of  engineering. The Advanced Space Academy Commander’s Cup patch denotes the perfect ending to an incredible week for the Von Lions team. Their intelligence, teamwork and communication amounted to many newly formed friendships, good times and long-lasting memories!



Day 4 at Space Camp

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Today began with a double dose of Space Camp missions. Both the Bravo and Charlie missions were today, immediately following breakfast, so the Von Lions team definitely had their work cut out for them!

Meseret and Kyle worked hard in the ISS to switch the right switches and to push the right buttons in coordination with their orbit around earth, as well as keeping lines of communication open with mission control.

NASA’s ISS travels its earth orbit at 17,500 mph and is circles earth 16 times per day! Using one of various sites, you can spot the ISS from any location on earth, given the time of day (typically dawn or dusk, when the sun’s light isn’t too bright, but can reflect off of the solar panels of the ISS) and time of year. While Meseret was in the ISS, Aaron was busy with his extravehicular activity. His role in the Bravo mission was to operate the Canadarm efficiently to fix the instrument bay of a satellite as well as repairing a damaged light atop the satellite (probably from space debris, like in Gravity). Aaron got into his spacesuit (armed first with an ice vest because even in space, working so hard and in such thick suits makes astronauts sweat!) then crawled through the airlock to climb to the exterior of the space shuttle. Upon his safe return to the shuttle, Aaron sent USDB his well wishes and signed a quick hello to his friends before disrobing to his regular space suit and finalizing his checklist before the mission ended.


Today (May 1st) was also Interpreter Appreciation Day, so the astronauts finished their Bravo mission, then thanked their interpreters; Dean, Angie and Aaron. These three interpreters have worked incredibly hard this week to help the Von Lions be very successful. The very thoughtful Von Lions team thanked their interpreters with cards signed by the team and gave them each a tin of space putty that can tear, bounce and hold secret messages. Thank you Dean, Angie and Aaron!

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 After a successful Bravo mission and a heart-felt thank you session for the incredible interpreters that’ve graced the Von Lions this week with their signing knowledge, the Von Lions took a short break to get some water, and use the bathroom. In their absence, mission control was quiet, darkened and seemed to be prepping itself for the Charlie mission that was to come for the Von Lions team.

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For the Charlie mission, the Von Lions were a well-oiled machine, ready to tackle anomalies (the word NASA uses for “problems” because “problems” has too strong of a negative connotation) and seemed to have a good grasp of teamwork and communication in their toolkit of skills acquired this week. Well, in the Charlie mission, they truly shined by using all of the tools they had!

Walker was the communicator in Mission Control who spoke with the astronauts and scientists in the ISS, one of which happened to be Ronnald, so the communication between them went well…..until the Space Camp administrators decided that the Von Lions would benefit from one of the toughest anomalies that could occur. Due to not one, but two, video failures, via a fuzzy, non-consistent feed, both Walker and the ISS scientists felt the struggle of weak communication signal and quickly adapted to the spotty chances they had to relay messages and worked through the difficulties.

While Walker and Ronnald sifted through the anomalies incurred by the purposeful administration, Meseret and the rest of the Mission Control team worked hard on anomalies of their own. Because they had trained for single and multiple anomalies that may light up their Caution and Warning (C&W) screen, the administrators also deemed them worthy of some very difficult anomalies including multiple anomalies occurring at once, some that required conversation and discussion in Mission Control, and some that required the astronauts on their EVA, or the already stressed out commander and pilot in the cockpit of the shuttle!

20140501-120709.jpgThough countless anomalies arose, caused frustration and resulted in certain mission positions trumping others in final decisions being made, the Von Lions team worked through them and landed safely to complete their very tough Charlie mission!

Rocket Launch Time! After their Charlie Mission knocked some of the pep from their step, the Von Lions proceeded to the sunny, grassy field near the U.S. Space and Rocket Center to launch the Estes model rockets that they’d built earlier in the week. Not only did this activity provide respite from the stress of a mission, it provided some time in the sun, acquisition of vitamin D and an abundance of things that explode!

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After the excitement of the rocket launch, the Von Lions ate a quick lunch and headed to the simulators which allow them to feel the weightlessness of the moon! On the moon, astronauts weigh 1/6th of what they weigh on earth, so the Von Lion astronauts enjoyed the “moon walk” they took by floating across the moon’s surface, some of them daintily, others of them heavy-footed, and some even chose to spin!

In addition to the moon walk that the Utahn astronauts got to enjoy, they had the option of stepping up to a NASA and Space Camp favorite, the multi-axis trainer. This circle inside of a circle inside of a circle construction gives the feeling of dizziness and disorientation often associated with re-entry. Though NASA astronauts use a square design now, this simulator is often used for pilots/commanders to re-orient their bearings as they soar through the earth’s atmosphere.



20140501-222218.jpgAnother facet of astronaut training is weightlessness (zero G) and “increased” weight (called g-force). Though the astronauts train on something a bit different than the SpaceShot, the Utahn astronauts were able to enjoy the SpaceShot which arranges the passengers in a seated circle around a tower, then launches them (increased g-force) to the top of the tower. Once they arrive there, the astronauts are taunted then “dropped” so that they can experience a moment of stomach-dropping weightlessness!

Because the Von Lions were a part of a hybrid program, Thursday night’s activity, after much preparation all week in patrolling, silent communication (the Deaf astronauts were already pros!) and tactics in maneuvers to overtake a base, and to place a bomb or secure a facility, the Von Lions had their Escape and Evasion mission in which they had place a bomb under a specific F4 helicopter in the pitch black, then also had to secure their base from invasion. In addition to being tracked by enemies resulting in capture and “taking out” the enemies via sneaky tactics, the Von Lions spent most of the evening crawling on their stomachs through the Alabama woods, silently communicating and working efficiently together.20140501-223932.jpg