a spaced out education

Josie Dougherty, suited up for Space Camp this summer

Part 2 of Josie Dougherty’s blog about Space Academy

WOW! Talk about the highlight of my summer. Space Academy was an incredible experience. It was, well, the adventure of a lifetime.

Once we arrived in Huntsville, we were welcomed into Space Academy. We were ushered into HAB 1 (Habitat 1) where we were signed in. After we settled in, we went to the the welcome ceremony and were sorted into our teams. I was sorted into team Miranda and we soon went on to get our first briefing. I guess I should explain the team names. The team names are based on either sponsors of Space Camp or bits of space trivia such as names of moons or planet names. Team Miranda’s namesake was one of Uranus’s moons.

One of our first tasks was to build a heat shield. We were given some tin-foil, some metal mesh, and some wire to protect a screw that was hot glued to a wooden rod. We had to protect the astronaut (represented by the screw) using the materials provided from the heat that was coming from the blow torch, so that the glue that was holding a screw to a wooden rod would not melt and let the screw fall. Each day we were assigned mind boggling tasks similar to this—such as building rockets and estimating payload.

LMSs in the space suits

We trained on simulators, just like astronauts. During the time that I spent at Space Academy, my team and I did five simulators. The Multi Axis Trainer or MAT, the ⅙ chair, the SpaceShot, G-Force, and the microgravity chair. My favorite simulator was the MAT. It was supposed to simulate the feeling of a tumble spin, as if you lost control of your vehicle during your return to Earth. Although it looks like it would make you sick, you are never in one position long enough for the fluids in your ears to shift. The ⅙ gravity chair simulates what it is like to walk on the moon. It made your body feel so light! We each had the opportunity to “walk” like an astronaut on the moon. The SpaceShot simulated zero gravity and was a ride—very similar to a roller coaster. G-Force was also a ride, spinning faster and faster and pushing our bodies up and back against the walls. We actually rose a few feet in the air. I had the opportunity to use the microgravity chair as part of my mission. It simulates the feeling of weightlessness for an extended period of time, like an astronaut would feel during a spacewalk.The capstones of our training were our missions, which were harder than any of us expected. We were given two missions.


During the first mission, I was Lunar Mission Specialist 5, or LMS5. It was a really cool job. At the beginning of the mission I sat in the shuttle and waited for my teammates to dock with a capsule. Then once we were in the capsule I, along with three other LMS’s, piloted the capsule to the dock at the International Space Station. After the LMS’s docked the capsule to the ISS, LMS 6 and 7 went of to do experiments in the ISS while LMS 4 and I got dressed in the big white space suits to go do a spacewalk in a microgravity chair. This was the best part of the mission. We had to screw a solar panel onto the model ISS with struts and bolts, while wearing the big white suit. We were given 10 minutes to secure the panel. My partner and I were successful in attaching it. After we got back inside the model ISS we began stripping off the suits. Because the suits were designed to go on actual space walks, we were extremely hot in the gear. (If the camp staff suspects that you might be in the suit for longer than 20 minutes, you will be given a vest of ice packs to wear so that you do not get overheated.) Unfortunately, the time that we were estimated to be in the suits was just under that limit so we didn’t get to wear the vests. As soon as we got out of the suits, my partner and I laid down on the cool floor and enjoyed the air conditioning!

The Miranda team

For our other mission, I was in mission control and was assigned the position of Flight Director or FLIGHT. The Flight Director is the person in charge of starting the mission and making all of the big decisions for the crew of the space shuttle. This job was even harder and more stressful than being an LMS. We all relied heavily on one another in order to make the mission a success and learned that sometimes you had to offer help and sometimes you had to accept help in order to successfully complete your mission. Unlike our previous mission, anomalies were introduced. This made the job of FLIGHT a lot harder. It meant that every time there was a problem, mission control would talk through the possible solutions, but ultimately it was my decision. Even if nobody else in mission control agreed with my decision, it was still my call.

I learned a lot during my week at Space Academy. I learned about career opportunities and the power of determination. There were definitely times where my teammates and I were stressed (they try to make everything as close to a true-to-life NASA experience as possible). Nobody would have had it any other way. But I think the most important thing that I took away from this week is that a team is a unit—you succeed and you fail together. And as part of a team, you have to learn how to balance your strengths and weaknesses with the strengths and weaknesses of your various team members, in order to be successful.

And I can’t wait to blast off to Huntsville, AL to to meet up with my team for Advanced Space Academy.

Read how Josie learned she got the gig…

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