Archive for Thursday, July 27, 2006

Attending space camp fuels goal to become astronaut

Basehor-Linwood student completes three training camps

July 27, 2006

A local teenager is a step closer to achieving his goal of becoming an astronaut.

Ian Smith, a freshman at Basehor-Linwood High School, recently returned from a trip to the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson after completing Level 3 of the Future Astronaut Training Program.

Smith said his interest in the program stemmed from his family's many trips to science museums.

"We like to take short trips on three-day weekends," James Smith, Ian's father, said. "He's always been interested in science."

Fueling his interest, Ian's mother, Laura found the training camp through an Internet search. He completed Levels 1 and 2 in previous years as they are prerequisites to enroll in the week long Level 3 camp. Each level features different stages of activities such as spaceflight simulations and shuttle crew exercises.

"In Level 1, you're basically learning everything about the systems," Ian said. "Every year, they add onto the missions and shuttle simulators."

In Level 2, future astronauts prepare for their more challenging missions, which includes flying an Advanced Flight Simulator in an actual F-101 cockpit, by going scuba diving to practice spacewalking and experience microgravity.

"In Level 2 we got to go scuba diving because that's how the astronauts train," Ian said. "It was really fun."

Students go through another advanced training session in Level 3, which includes a mission aboard the cosmosphere's space shuttle simulator the Falcon III, and then travel to Houston for two days to visit the Johnson Space Center. While in Houston, students tour Building 9, which is home to a full-scale shuttle and NASA's space shuttle trainers. The students also toured the Mission Control Center, the Neutral Buoyancy Lab where astronauts train for microgravity in a 6.2 million gallon pool and several other behind the scenes areas of the space center.

"My favorite part of Level 3 was Johnson Space Center," Ian said. "We got to go places most people will never see."

Level 3 students are also offered the opportunity to meet with NASA engineers and flight trainers during a special evening banquet. Ian said he is excited to attend Level 4 next year, which allows him to tour the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Each level concludes with a graduation ceremony that parents can attend.

James said that the Future Astronaut Training Program is a great opportunity for school-aged youth to grow mentally and socially.

"It is a tremendous confidence booster for them," he said. "It teaches leadership and communication skills and they get to meet people from literally all over the country. Each year he (Ian) comes back more enthusiastic than he was before."

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