Training for Space

What’s it Like?

A bunch of years ago I was gifted (by Mr. SpaceWriter) with an all-expenses-paid trip to Space Camp for adults held in Huntsville, Alabama. The object was a week’s worth of training in shuttle operations, and it was one of the coolest things I had done in my life to that point.  It wasn’t all kids’ play — we actually spent our days in classes learning about propulsion systems, life support systems, launch systems, etc.  Some of our lecturers were actual NASA engineers, one of whom had come to NASA from Germany in the 50s.  We spent hours in simulators and, no surprise to any of my readers, I suppose, I ended up as shuttle commander for my flight.  I had a pilot, two mission specialists and two payload specialists.  We trained together each day, and then at the end of the week, we “flew” a simulated 2-hour mission.  We had been warned in advance that there would be some anomalies thrown at us, so we had to be prepared.

Our launch was great, we cast off our SRBs on the nominal, and the main tank went just fine. Shortly thereafter, we had a fuel cell failure, which my pilot and I diagnosed in about 30 seconds and managed to fix.  Everything went fine until we got to orbit, and then one of our payload bay doors jammed.  We figured that one out, but lost about two minutes in our timeline doing so.  After that, things went fine until late in the mission, when we had a couple of electrical problems.  Fixed those, deployed our payload, had some time for some tomfoolery, and then we deorbited and landed.  Despite our problems, our crew won top ratings that week and we all went home with huge grins on our faces.

I hadn’t thought about that week in Huntsville much until today when I was reading a Twitter message from an engineer in Houston who works in Mission Control at the Johnson Space Flight Center in Houston, Texas.  She goes by the monicker @absolutspacegirl.  Today, apparently, she and her team are working their way through some simulations of similar problems (fuel cell issues, payload bay door issues) thrown at the team and she’s twittering about it. Very, very cool.

A full-scale model of the James Webb Space Telescope. (Click to embiggen.)
A full-scale model of the James Webb Space Telescope. (Click to embiggen.)

Speaking of teaching and learning, the NASA James Webb Space Telescope folks have launched an online game to teach about the telescope (and telescopes in general) and how such things work. James Webb Telescope will launch sometime after 2013 and will be an infrared-sensitive telescope.

This telescope is a successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. It will be able to peer through dusty clouds surrounding newborn stars, for example, and possibly see planetary systems forming around them. Wanna learn more? check out the Webb Telescope game site.


  1. When I was 15 or so I went to the airplane version of Spacecamp, Aviation Challenge. My squadron won the overall grades for the week (leadership, teamwork, etc) and me and my partner won the dogfight competition.
    I was a crappy pilot (And he was a bad backseater) but I was a kick ass backseater. It was a similar story so I thought I’d share.

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