OGDEN -- Ever wonder what it takes to get a shuttle up into space? Not only did sixth-graders from Sam Morgan Elementary in Kaysville find out for themselves, but they actually experienced a mock shuttle launch this week at the Astro Camp at Odyssey Elementary in Ogden.
Once all 30 students made it to their assigned rooms -- cockpit, mission control, operations center, space station mission control, and space station alpha, with their camp director, Ed Douglas, overseeing every operation and command from the control room, the fun began.
Each student had headphones on while concentrating on a computer and 22-page script in front of them, making sure not to miss their part, ever-aware of the big red clock on each room's wall ticking down the minutes until liftoff, when they had to be completed with the narration, or the launch would be terminated.
The dialogue uttered by the pre-teens sounded nearly professional with commands of "transmit launch data now," "enter longitude coordinates," "bring oxygen pumps online," and "electrical systems read stable." Were it not for the young voices checking things off the list in preparation for liftoff, one listening might not have realized students were issuing the commands.
The mock launch wasn't all smooth sailing, with the students encountering a few problems along the way. For Ella Olsen, who directed the capsule communications, it proved to be harder than she thought, saying "It was really stressful and hard because I had to go in and fix all the problems that happened, and I didn't want to mess up or miss something."
One of their first problems came about when one of the systems failed. They were advised by Douglas that they only had 45 seconds to resolve the issue so they could still launch on time. In only 22 seconds, Olsen had the system restarted, and back online properly. "With my headset on and sitting in front of the computer, it almost felt like the real thing," said Olsen.
The well-oiled orchestration through the 22-page mock shuttle launch narration didn't come without practice, though. Students were given the script three weeks prior to their field trip and spent many hours working through the sequence.
Sixth-grade teacher Judy Chesley said it's the most focused she's ever seen her students.
"They love doing it, but one of the best things about it is that the whole time, they are practicing how to focus, listen, and be on time with their part," said Chesley. "There isn't anything else we do in school that is so involved."
Douglas said one of the critical pieces they learn during the mission is how important teamwork is. "They learn that every part is important because when it's your turn, that is the most important job at the moment and 29 other people are depending on you doing your job," said Douglas.
Sixth-grader Dylan Jeffery, who played the part of the pilot, said the experience was fun, exciting, and nerve-wracking, all at the same time. "The biggest thing for me was learning that astronauts have a really big job to do, and can be really complicated, but at the same time, can be really fun," said Jeffery.
Additionally, Jeffery was concerned about making sure he didn't lose any points for his team. Each school class collects or loses points during the process, and schools with the highest set of points get the bragging rights. Sam Morgan Elementary is currently the record holder, an honor it hopes to keep this year.
Douglas is now in his 24th year of doing space camps for kids, and enjoys giving them the opportunity to learn more about space and science. "I don't want them to be afraid of science because that's where all the fun toys are. There can be so much to memorize, but science can be fun, especially when it's hands-on like this."
For more information about field trips or space camps, see www.astrocamputah.org.