Adventures at Space Camp

Charles Macleod reviews a checklist in the space shuttle simulator in Huntsville, Ala.
Charles is a 9th grader from Redlands, Calif., who was selected to attend Air Force Space Camp this year.  (U.S. Air Force photo courtesy of Charles Macleod)

Charles Macleod reviews a checklist in the space shuttle simulator in Huntsville, Ala. Charles is a 9th grader from Redlands, Calif., who was selected to attend Air Force Space Camp this year. (U.S. Air Force photo courtesy of Charles Macleod)

MARCH AIR RESERVE BASE, CALIF. -- Last school year, when my mom asked me if I'd like to attend Air Force Space Camp in the summer, I thought, "Doesn't she remember I've wanted to be an astronaut since I could talk?!" And thus, the journey began.

My parents and I started putting together an application package right away for one of the Air Force scholarships to the camp. I was so excited and it seemed like forever before we were notified. When my mom told me in June that I'd won a scholarship, I was so happy and incredibly grateful to the Air Force. I wanted to learn everything they were willing to teach me. This was a dream come true.

Off I went on July 24, all on my own. The camp was actually July 25-30, but I arrived early with many other kids and we quickly got to know one another. Our days started at 6 a.m. and ended with lights out at 10 p.m. We worked hard all day, but it was the most disciplined and challenging type of work I could ever imagine And the challenges were both mental and physical.

All of our equipment was the real deal and we even got flight suits with name tags and patches. Our mornings were focused on Space Academy activities and afternoons were dedicated to Aviation Challenge.

Although there were a ton of kids at Space Camp, my team, Team Wilbur, was a special group that consisted of 16 Air Force kids and two counselors. On our first day we had to take a test so our counselors could pick which position we would have during our shuttle launch. I was chosen to be the commander and my crew included a pilot, two payload and mission specialists and multiple other positions ranging from mission control to being in the International Space Station running experiments.
 
One of my favorite activities was when I got to use the F/A-18 Hornet simulator. It was a perfect fit. I think I was born for the F/A-18! I got to experience 3Gs in the centrifuge which was one of the same ones that pilots and astronauts use for training. It was so cool! While in the centrifuge we had to continue to push buttons and respond so the operator would know we hadn't blacked out.

In addition to all of the different simulators and equipment we used, we watched IMAX movies and had lessons and lectures on the history of space, aviation and much more. We also participated in team building exercises where we were given a scenario, a limited number of resources and a mission to accomplish. Everyone had the chance to lead a scenario.

I learned a lot about myself at Space Camp. For instance, I learned that I liked working in a team environment. It was new for me, but I enjoyed it. I liked being with others and working together toward a goal.

When I started 9th grade in August, I joined the Redlands High School JV water polo team because I wanted that team environment. My parents were really surprised because I'd never talked about being part of a team. I've been on the Redlands Swim Team for several years, but it's sort of an individual sport.

Before going to Space Camp I'd always planned on joining the Air Force and becoming an astronaut. I knew that meant being a pilot first, but just being a pilot wasn't anything that excited me. Space Camp got me thinking about being a pilot and what that would be like. It is something that excites me now and I'm really thinking about that as a career choice.

There was only one bad part of Space Camp: saying goodbye to all of my new friends. I met so many great kids from all over the world representing different regions where the
Air Force is based. My folks say the military brings people together from different backgrounds and that you bond really quickly. That's how Space Camp was. We were there only a week, but we all got so close and we counted on each other to get us through our missions and lessons.

My parents had told me before leaving to be open to every opportunity, to absorb everything and most important, to have fun. And I did. I had so much fun. This was the thrill of a lifetime. Air Force Space Camp was the best part of my summer and I'll never forget it.