Saturday, March 29, 2014

Space Camp 2014

Last night, I returned from a 3-day, 2-night field trip to Space Camp at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.  I took 30 fifth grade students and 11 other adults on this annual trip.  I've gone the past six years, but this trip is probably my most memorable.  You'll see why in a bit!
We left at 6:00 EST on Wednesday morning, drove seven and a half hours, and arrived safely around 12:30 p.m. CST.  There was a last minute change of plans when we registered, and we were placed in the dorms of Habitat 2 instead of Habitat 1 (which we stayed in last year).  You can read about last year's experience HERE.  It turned out to be great!  All the girls stayed in one large dorm room, and all the boys stayed in one large room.  We each had our own bathroom.  Therefore, we didn't have to walk down the hall to go to the restroom, nor did we have to share with another school group!  Yay!  The girls' room was huge (we had 54 bunks)!  For those who are interested, here's what our accommodations were like:
As you can see, it's no 5-star hotel, but that's okay.  This is camp!  We had plenty of hot water, space, and privacy.  It was all good.  For any teachers out there considering a trip to Space Camp, please know that you must bring everything you need--towels, rags, sheets, etc.  I always suggest that my students bring a sleeping bag and pillow--it's much easier to just roll it out on the bunk and not have to worry about sheets. 

Anyway, after we arrived and settled into our Habitat, we had orientation and soon jumped into activities.  Our school participated in the same program as last year, Pathfinder, and we were even split up into three groups with the same names as last year--Armstrong, Aldrin, and Bean.  I was on Team Armstrong again and our camp counselor was named "Karl with a K."  No, we didn't just call him Karl; we had to say, "Karl with a K."  He was awesome!  Before our trip, we prayed specifically for a counselor/crew trainer who was loud, energetic, and enjoyed being with us.  Karl with a K was all that and more!  He taught us a chant that we shouted out randomly at Space Camp.  When he yelled "Armstrong!"  We would yell back, "Stays strong....ALL...DAY...LONG!"

On Day 1, Team Armstrong visited the Rocket Park and learned about early rocket history, trained for our space mission, rode G-Force, visited the Davidson Museum (and learned about the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs), rode the MAT (Multi-Axis Trainer) simulator, and assembled rockets.
Karl with a K, telling a story about Alan Shepard's first flight.

On Day 2, we awoke bright and early at 7 a.m.  Breakfast was around 7:30 a.m.  After breakfast, we launched our rockets.  We made them too well, apparently, because all of them shot so far away--and even landed in trees--that we couldn't retrieve them.  After the rocket launch, we designed a mission patch for our team (see below).  We learned more about the Apollo program in the Davidson Museum, and we were able to ride G-Force (again) and Space Shot.  We completed our mission, but didn't find out until the next day at graduation that Team Armstrong won the Most Successful Mission!!  Yay--that's two years in a row for my team!!  We were able to visit the gift shop, as well as Mrs. Baker's grave.  She was the first monkeynaut to go to space and return successfully, so we placed a banana on her grave.  We learned about the Shuttle Program and saw an IMAX movie on the Hubble space telescope.  After that, things got quite interesting...
My team's mission patch, with the explanation below.

Team Aldrin's mission patch

Team Bean's mission patch

We had the opportunity to ride Space Shot a second time and I jumped on it!  I love that ride!  You are shot 140 feet in the air and experience a moment of free fall.  This ride simulates what a launch is like, as well as a brief period of microgravity.  Here's what the ride is like: 
I love roller coasters and rides like this (that drop you suddenly), and I'm not afraid of heights.  So, I took a new group of kids and we rode a second time.  I sat on the end, like in the video, with a little boy next to me, and a girl on the end.  In all, I had 6 students on the ride, as well as a mom chaperone.  We got buckled in, and with little notice, we shot up!  I knew, after the first drop, that something wasn't right.  The ride didn't feel like it normally does--and I've ridden Space Shot enough times to know what it's like!  Pretty soon, we slowly lifted to the very top of the ride and stopped.  We were suspended 140 feet in the air.  The children started to get a little nervous after a minute or two, and began to question me about why we'd stopped.  I said, "I'm not sure, but look at this wonderful view!  This is a view of Space Camp we don't normally get to see!?!  Check out the hills in the background, and..."  The little girl interrupted me and said, "Mrs. Bowman, I know you're trying to distract us, but IT'S NOT WORKING!"  She went on, "Ugh!  I knew I should have gone to the bathroom instead of getting on this ride!"  We chuckled, but then I started to hear the heartbreaking sounds of my students on the other side of the ride crying and wailing.  I couldn't call out to them, so I yelled to the little girl on the end, "Try to shout to those girls and tell them it's okay!  We are going to get down soon!"  The little girl tried, but the wind was blowing, air was releasing from the valves behind our heads, and it was difficult to communicate over all the noise.  I could clearly hear the hysteria, however, and it was awful.  I immediately started praying out loud.  The longer we were up there, the more nervous the little girl on the end seemed to get.  To be honest, I was getting nervous as well. 
My nervous face!
The little boy next to me said, "Well, I'm not nervous because we've got Mrs. Bowman right here, so we're okay!"  I thought, "Child, if you knew what was going through my brain right now, you wouldn't have as much confidence in me!"  His comment, however, gave me resolve.  I knew I had to act as strong and brave as he thought I was.  It was probably the hardest thing I've ever had to do as a teacher. 

After a while, our feet and legs began tingling and growing numb.  We had been up there for a while and we had no idea what was going on.  There was no way for anyone on the ground to give us info or talk to us.  We just had to wait.  My kids and I kept praying and praying out loud.  I said, "Guys, I know we are surprised by this and it's unexpected, but the Lord knew we would be stuck up here in this moment.  This is not a surprise to Him.  There is some reason we are up here.  This may be the opportunity you need for your faith to grow...for you to put your trust in Him...for you to learn dependence on Him...I don't know...but I'm pretty sure we will never be the same!" 

We continued to pray and talk and soon the wind started to blow as hard as ever.  We were so cold and the gusts were rocking our seats.  That was nerve-wracking!  I had my camera with me and was able to record this brief prayer (you can hear how badly the wind was blowing...and, yes, my teeth were chattering):

We had been dangling in the air for around 30 minutes or so.  You can see the time-lapse with these pictures (notice the position of the sun/shadows):
We were thanking God for the awesome view...the fact that we were upright and not in a super uncomfortable position (or stuck upside down!).  We prayed practically the entire time.  We could see "official Space Camp people" gathering down below, so we knew help was on the way.  Eventually, we heard our teammates from the ground yell up to us, "ARMSTRONG!"  To which we cried back, "STAYS STRONG...ALL...DAY...LONG!"  We did the chant a total of three times, and that seemed to calm everyone a little. 
At one point, I looked at the little boy next to me and said, "What do you think your dad is thinking right now?"  He said, "I don't know, but I can tell he's nervous!  See him pacing, with his hands in his pocket?  Yep; he's nervous!"  His dad was one of the chaperones on the ground.  A moment later, I couldn't spot the dad, so I said, "I wonder where your dad went."  The child responded, "He probably went to call my mom, and I'll tell you what...if they don't get me down within 9 hours, I guarantee you, she'll be at the bottom of this Space Shot!"  Haha!  I just died laughing!

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we felt like we were being slowly lowered.  We looked up...and, YES...we were moving!  Hallelujah!  Once we got to the bottom, we prayed again!  I'll tell you, I don't know if I've ever prayed so hard in my life!  We were handed bottles of water and shook hands with several Space Camp officials.  They apologized profusely and let us know that this has never happened before.  One man told us, "In my 25 years here, this has never happened." 

Apparently, the ride operates on an air compression system.  When it launches, it is supposed to reach 26 PSI; instead, for whatever reason (possibly high winds impacted the machine?), it reached 30 PSI and immediately went into maintenance mode.  We couldn't be lowered until the air pressure bled off.  Unfortunately, this took a while.  Thankfully, we were lowered slowly.  I had been wondering how we would drop...

Us at the top (picture taken from a distance)
By the time we got off the ride, I was the only one who hadn't cried.  I felt so bad for my students.  Most of the girls had red faces and puffy eyes.  We all hugged each other once we were safe and sound.  One of the officials came up to me and we spoke for a bit.  He told me he was a part-time pastor who actually had a speaking engagement at a church in Tennessee this Sunday.  He asked if he could tell this story in his sermon.  I said, "Okay.."  I was half-listening, honestly; I was just trying to get feeling back in my legs.  He gave me his card, but it took over an hour before the numbness went away from our fingers, legs, and feet.  Crazy!
So happy to have our feet on the ground!
Another amazing thing happened...Space Camp felt terrible about our ordeal, so to make it up to us, Team Armstrong was immediately escorted to a private room behind the gift shop where every one of us was custom-fitted for flight suits.  Space Camp gave these to us for free (and they are $90.00 each!?).  They also let us order leather badges with our names on them to go on our suits! 
I already have a flight suit, but what was I going to say, "Oh, well, I'd rather have $90 worth of books for my classroom, thank you."  ?!?  It was a HUGE gift to us, and we were all very appreciative!  I reminded my students that we didn't do anything to earn these suits...and that we shouldn't strut around in front of the other students like, "Check out our awesome space suits!"  The kids handled it very well. 

What I love about this experience is that my students saw God.  After we landed safely on the ground, a little girl came up to me and said, "Mrs. Bowman, I've never felt closer to God than right now!"  We talked about the whole situation!  They were able to see God answer prayers, and for some of them, their walk with the Lord will never be the same again.

For me, that experience taught me several things.  I realized that I really like control.  If you know me as a teacher, you know that I expect my classroom to run like a well-oiled machine.  I like structure, order, and for things to be done a certain way.  When I was at the top of Space Shot, I had absolutely no control.  Things were not working out the way I thought they should.  How did I handle that?  How do I normally respond when something unexpected happens?  I handled the situation by turning immediately to prayer.  Honestly, if the children hadn't been there, I would have cried and thrown a fit and been a hysterical mess!  I was reminded by this situation that I'm really not in control of anything.  None of us are.  We are at the mercy and under the authority of a sovereign God.  Another thing that stuck out to me was something I already mentioned--I immediately turned to prayer.  I prayed more passionately and fervently at the top of Space Shot than I have in a while.  But I don't want to do that only when I'm in a bad spot or when something terrible happens!  I want to "pray without ceasing" and talk that passionately with God on a daily basis.  So many people (myself included) get into the habit of crying out to God only when things go wrong.  I want to wake up daily and submit everything to Jesus Christ...turn to Him in every situation, good or bad.  I do try to live my life for Christ every day, but this situation was a great reminder to me of how important it is.              

One last "God-moment"...after one of my many prayers at the top of Space Shot, the little girl on the end turned to me and asked, "Mrs. Bowman, did you feel that?!" 
"What??" I said.
"We just prayed that the wind would stop...and it's stopped!!" she gasped.

Even though this experience wasn't pleasant, I'm thankful for it.  I'm extremely glad that I was on the ride with the kids instead of being on the ground, looking up helplessly.  Granted, I was helpless ON the ride, but it made my students feel better that I was experiencing this with them. 

Side note:  Earlier today, I actually called that part-time pastor/U.S. Space & Rocket Center official who gave me his card, and we had an incredible phone conversation.  We talked for almost half an hour and he shared with me what his sermon was going to be about, among other things.  Explaining our conversation would be another blog post, so all I'll say about it is this--I'm in awe of how God moved on this trip!

Once the excitement was over and our nerves had settled, my group ended Day 2 with dinner, a Museum Scavenger Hunt, and a simulator. 
This child lost his shoe on the simulator, and Karl with a K said, "What's left on the moon stays on the moon!"  Ha!  He got it back after everyone had a turn. 
On Day 3, we woke up super early and loaded our stuff on the bus at 7:00 a.m.  We walked to the Davidson Museum where I led our entire group in a devotion.  Our counselor, Karl with a K, actually kicked off our devotion time with an a cappella version of "Amazing Grace."  That was a first for me!  Karl with a K actually sings opera and has a beautiful, resounding voice.

After our devotion time, we played Space Bowl--and Team Aldrin won! 
Breakfast was next, followed by graduation...
As I said earlier, Team Armstrong won Best Mission; here we are, receiving our special pins:
Before we left, my group enjoyed Space Dots ice cream:
I had several kids come up to me and ask, "Do we have to leave?"  We all loved Space Camp and had a memorable trip!  I'll close with a few more pictures:

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