Tuesday, February 1, 2011
A very interesting read if you have a few minutes.
Astronomers "weigh" heaviest known black hole in our cosmic neighborhood - Astronomy Magazine
Monday, January 31, 2011
It's a Monday and the start of another work week. Just a few random pictures to start the week off right.
The title picture is fitting when one considers the news coming from the Middle East. We have the Old Guard slightly unerved by their nation's young. We have a new generation of young people who realize they don't have to accept the injustices their parents tolerated. They demand democracy, and as a result, we hear the dominos falling. First Tunisia, now Egypt and then what? We live in interesting times.
I realize America's young rarely have time for news, considering all the demands for your attention (I realize asking you to cut some of your Facebook time for the news is going too far), but I feel strongly that you should. Take a moment and read about the events that are unfolding in this unstable part of the world. It will affect you in some way.
I always wondered where falling stars came from. Now the only question left to ask is why I hadn't realized this before....
What's wrong with this picture? That's right, it's missing Pleasant Grove. And what would be used to illustrate our lovely little town in the back woods of Utah? Some might vote for the Purple Turtle, while the more intelligent among you would insist the Space Center is the best representation of what makes Pleasant Grove unique.
So how do you vote? Purple Turtle or The Space Center?
And finally, Wall - E - Star Wars Style......
Have a Great Evening Troops,
Sunday, January 30, 2011
We survived the largest Overnight Camp in the Space Center's History on Friday. Our max. is 45 campers for any given camp. We had 51 show up Friday night. They just kept coming and coming and coming. In the end there were ten not on the lists sent by the schools. I had a choice to make. I could either call the parents of the ten disputed students and have them come to collect them, or I could find a way to let them stay.
I played out each phone call in my imagination. I didn't even know I knew the swear words my imagination conjured up coming from each of the ten parent's mouths. Thirty seconds into this "What If" scenario I had to shift mental gears and go to my 'happy place' to slow my racing heart and lower my blood pressure. I knew I couldn't make those calls.
I looked at my older staff. They were looking at me, wondering what my decision would be. I wanted to send ten home, but who would I order to make the calls and handle the phone rage? Who would I have do the very thing I was terrified of doing? Who was on my butt kicking list for having missed work or coming to work not properly dressed? Who deserved to spend an hour listening to language not fit to print in any dictionary, language so foul the nation's alert level would surge upon detecting the hatred spilling through the cell towers and phone circuits?
Each of them were looking at me with the same drooping, helpless eyes a dog gives its master after having wet on the carpet and not wanting a whooping with the evening's newspaper. In the end I abandoned the idea. I realized if I had one of them make those fateful calls I would be hauled before a United Nations Tribunal in the Netherlands for Crimes Against Humanity.
"OK, we won't send them home," I announced.
"What are we going to do with ten extra kids?" Mr. Daymont asked. I wanted to say "Give them to you" but knew the shock would cause an instantaneous loss of blood to his brain causing a physical collapse in front of 51 campers.
I thought back to the last time we had large numbers, remembered what I did and made the pronouncement. "We take 31 of them and split them into two teams. One team does a Voyager 2.5 hour mission while the other does the same in the Magellan. They switch ships at 10:20 P.M. The Voyager can do a school field trip mission. They're designed for larger groups on the Bridge."
The staff liked the idea, what choice did they have?
The campers were delightful. They were excited to be at camp and had no problems doing whatever we asked. We all got through the camp unscathed thanks to an awesome staff and brilliant campers.
What can be said of my performance? I went and hid behind my desk for most of the night after dividing the kids into their ships. There are times in a teacher's career when hiding behind our desks is warranted. I just crawled into that little space reserved for my feet and stayed there until the world seemed normal again. If the staff asks, I tell them I dropped a thumb tack. Everyone knows you can't leave a lost thumb tack laying around, especially with a staff that likes to wonder shoeless at bedtime during an overnight camp.
It's Sunday now and all seems well. This is behind us, we learned from it, and will be all the more ready if it ever happens again.
I was looking through my old photo albums and found a few gems from an Honor's Night held in 2002 I'd like to share with you.
Rio Downs is being presented a retirement gift. Rio left the Space Center to work as an administrator at the Wendover airport. I suppose her new work turn out to be similar to what she did a the Space Center. Here, she worked on starships packed with eager and excited children ready to win their missions and save the universe for freedom and democracy. In Wendover, she'd be working with airplanes full of eager and excited seniors coming to work the slots to purchase freedom from their woefully inadequate social security.
Lorraine Houston is giving Josh Babb his multiple ship pin. Josh ran the Magellan and the now retired Falcon.
Yes, this is Brady Young, eight years younger receiving his seniority pin. Brady was a Voyager and Magellan Supervisor. Brady is still with us at the Space Center as he works through college. We have to share him with Best Buy. There is no doubt which job he prefers.
Scott Slaugh is on the receiving end of another seniority pin. Now how's this for a hiccup in the fabric of space time? Today Scott is married to the daughter of Dr. Carter, Central's principal and my boss.
Tanner Edwards receiving his pin. Tanner was with us for years and did an excellent job. The Honor's Night was held in the school's cafeteria. The lion painted on the wall is long gone.
Ryan Parsons isn't suffering from hypothermia. The blanket is his reward for volunteering for a whole bunch of hours (I can't remember the exact number which is why I said 'whole bunch'). The blankets were hand sewn by Mrs. Houston.
Look at these young faces. Casey Voeks starts us off on the left, followed by Katie, Megan Warner and Sam Brady. Alex DeBirk is standing in the background. The pillowcases were hand sewn by Mrs. Houston. You earned them for volunteering almost a whole bunch of hours.
Look at our happy volunteers, each holding his or her Year of Service pins. You recognise some of these faces from the previous picture. There are few other faces in this picture you may recognize. BJ Warner is on the far left. Mrs. Clegg is behind him. And who is that next to BJ? Why its a very young Emily Perry (now Paxman).
I'm reading a proclamation of some kind. I'm thinking this is the gathering where I declared myself "God of Flight Directing". By the way, the simulator Falcon was kept in the white boxes you see in the background. We set the ship up every Friday night for the Overnight Camps and took it down every Saturday morning at the camp's completion. One of the Starlab domes covered the boxes and equipment. Some of you old timers may remember the Falcon. It was run by Josh Babb, Stacy Carrol, Bill Schuler and Lorraine Houston.
This picture shows our newest Supervisors. Megan Warner, Jameson McDougal, Wesley Moss, Casey Voeks, Sam Brady, and Rick Cowdell. What an awesome group. Megan is currently on a mission in South Korea. Jameson recently married. Wesley recently returned from a mission to South Dakota, Casey is still with us in addition to working for Olive Garden, Motel 6 and has his own radio show on KTKK. Sam is at BYU. We've lost track of Rick. Anyone have an update?
Two real old timers. Dave Wall, creator and builder of the Odyssey, is shaking hands with James Porter. Today, James is a teacher at the Thomas Edison Charter School in Logan. James is working to create a Space Center at his school. He is married with a baby boy.
Randy Jepperson receiving his seniority pin. Randy recently married and comes to the Space Center from time to time on a Saturday to take the younger staff on in dodgeball.
Thomas Hardin is on the left. Clint Cowdell is in the center very pleased with himself for earning his Black Shirt. Clint became a new volunteer that night. I can't remember the name of the other boy in the photo.
Thomas, Clint and Emily either holding or wearing their black shirts. I believe new volunteers started wearing red shirts (like Thomas) back then. You received your black shirt after volunteering for so long and getting a pass of or two.
Well Troops, let's have another great week at the Space Center.
I look forward working with you in the trenches.
Friday, January 28, 2011
Today we pause to honor the seven astronauts that died in the orbiter Challenger during lift off. On board was school teacher Christa McAuliffe.
Space Center Educator
While we commemorate the loss of the crew, and recognize the courage of those who explore space and understand the value of the risk, let's also remember why it happened. I'm not talking about the actual failure of the frozen o-ring which allowed hot gas to escape the solid rocket motor. I'm talking about the failure of leadership. Someone was too eager to please superiors and succumbed to the pressure of a schedule, ignoring warnings from those who understood the danger. Seven lives were lost. The failure was doubled later, when those guilty of the failure tried to cover up their mistakes by blaming and persecuting the very engineer and team that warned them about the danger.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
By Mark Daymont
Space Center Educator
Today has been set apart as a Day of Remembrance for the lives lost during the great exploration of Space. Although we specifically honor American lives lost, we also remember the lives lost by the Russian explorers in tragic accidents of the past.
A few thoughts education to start this Thursday. Did you know the US already spends more on education per person than any of the the 34 wealthiest countries in the world save Switzerland?
Think of all the money being poured into our schools:
Obama’s fiscal year 2011 budget hikes total discretionary education spending to nearly $51 billion.
Toss in another $35 billion for mandatory Pell grants.
$4 billion for the illusory “Race to the Top” charade to improve academic standards.
$10 billion for the Education Jobs Fund signed into law last August
$50 million for the Striving Readers comprehensive literacy development and education program
$82 million for Student Aid Administration
$10.7 million for the Ready to Teach program.
$100 billion in federal stimulus funding for school programs and initiatives administered by the U.S. Department of Education.
Neal McCluskey accurately described the real impact of the $4 billion Race to the Top paperwork theater: “States must say how they would improve lots of things, but they actually have to do very little. It is decades of public schooling — from the Great Society to No Child Left Behind — in a nutshell.” You need a chainsaw to cut through the bureaucratese of the winning state applications, but the bottom line is that the “race” is “won” only when school reformers get buy-in from the teachers unions.
Despite massive multibillion-dollar “investments” in teacher training, America’s educators are horrifyingly incompetent at even elementary math. Explaining why American grade-school students can’t master simple fractions, one math professor confessed: “Part of the reason the kids don’t know it is because the teachers aren’t transmitting that.” Instead, they’ve ditched “drill and kill” — otherwise known as the basics — for costly educational fads ranging from “Mayan Math” to “Everyday Math” that substitute art, self-esteem and multiculturalism for the fundamentals of computation.
And what about all the money spent on technology in schools? Nationwide, in both urban and rural school districts, large and small, technology infusions have turned out to be gesture-driven boondoggles and political payoffs that squander precious educational resources — with little, if any, measurable academic benefits. Mark Lawson, school board president of one of New York state’s first districts to put technology directly in students’ hands, told The New York Times in 2007: “After seven years, there was literally no evidence it had any impact on student achievement — none. The teachers were telling us when there’s a one-to-one relationship between the student and the laptop, the box gets in the way. It’s a distraction to the educational process.”
Perhaps we should stand back and let the government spend several billion dollars in new spending that would go toward studying why the last several billion dollars in new spending hasn’t had a demonstrable effect on academic achievement.
When will they get it?
OK, now a few of my thoughts on school reform in the few minutes I have before getting ready to teach school:
1. Hire competent teachers and pay them well. You'll attract people that can actually teach.
2. Reduce class sizes so the teacher can work with individual students. Warehousing kids must stop.
3. Give teachers a teachable curriculum with proper textbooks, workbooks and supplies. Teachers spend too much of their day preparing lessons. Let that time be spent working with students.
4. Let there be consequences for failing to learn, consequences with teeth. Parents must be brought on board. It's either educate Bobby now or society will pay the bill later with Bobby either in prison or living on welfare. Of course the one variable we can't control in this reform is what happens in the home. We can't legislate good and proper parenting and without that, Bobby's chances of success are compromised. But, if there are serious consequences for failing to advance at grade level (not taking into account learning disabilities) then the consequences must be directed at parents as well. I know it sounds harsh but this is a national emergency. Our nation's future is a stake.
5. Put children in uniforms. Level the field in school. Take as much social pressure off the child as possible.
6. Reward success. We all work for rewards (paychecks). Children need meaningful rewards. Perhaps taking some of the billions of dollars spent on useless educational programs and diverting that into college scholarships earned "as you go" would motivate students to succeed. For instance, if a child achieves at grade level and perhaps goes above and beyond then reward that child with a state or federal grant set aside for his use in college (the money would be forfeited if he didn't go to college or some form of post high school education. Bobby would think twice about dropping out of high school knowing he'd loose several thousand dollars in grants if he just sticks it out). Parents would be delighted and Bobby would have something tangible in hand for his work. These grants would be awarded at the end of every school year in a mandatory school assembly with parents on hand. Wow, imagine the peer pressure on children and parents to succeed.
OK, enough. I've got to go to work. I have a math class to teach and field trips to run. I'm in the classroom now 28 years and I don't like the direction things are going.
Take what I say or leave it. It is your choice. It just does me good to shout out my frustrations from time to time and hope someone that can do something about it will listen.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Astronomers say they may have found the oldest galaxy ever seen by human eyes.
The galaxy, little more than a smudge detected by the Hubble Space Telescope, is about 13.2 billion light-years away from Earth and dates back to when the universe was in its infancy, according to The New York Times.
"The fact that we are finally able to look into the primordial universe for the first time is quite exciting," said Olivia Johnson of the Royal Greenwich Observatory, according to BBC News.
Part of the reason that older galaxies are so hard to find is that they are moving away from us as the universe expands.
This means that their light shifts to longer wavelengths, like a siren that sounds lower as it moves farther away.
Using Hubble's new Wide Field Camera 3, astronomers led by Rychard Bouwens from Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands were able to detect light going back all the way to when the universe was a youthful 480 million years old.
The findings are published in the journal Nature.
The astronomers hope the data will provide some insight into how the formation of galaxies accelerated and what happened to the fog of hydrogen and helium that filled the universe billions of years ago.
"This is clearly an era when galaxies were evolving rapidly," the astronomers said in the article, according to The New York Times.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Monday, January 24, 2011
I was in my place. The music was playing as students from Lincoln Academy moved from Central Elementary’s stage, through the Space Center’s revolving doors, and into the Voyager Simulator. I stood on the Bridge looking at my working home for the past twenty years. It was clean and tidy and, if I say so myself, pretty darn good looking for a ship still using technology from its last remodel in 2000.
I heard footfalls on the spiral stairs as the younglings made their last, fateful climb into destiny. I could tell they were 5th graders by their size. I asked the first person who reached the top of the stairway just to be sure. Some Flight Directors love the younger campers, while others prefer older students. Fifth graders usually take longer to train and aren’t as quick on the mental trigger as our older students, but they are so excited to see the simulators for the first time after hearing their older brothers and sisters talk about their field trips from years past.
“Papers,” I requested from each child when they reach the top of the stairs. Some had them ready for examination. Others had to dig them out of their pockets. The line stopped as they unfolded them for inspection. I looked at the papers to see where to seat them. Some waited for me to point them to their chair. Others handed me their papers and walked on, having no clue where to go. I suspected they suffered from a partial brain paralyses brought on by the awesomeness of the Voyager. Their brains fired in overdrive to understand the sights, sounds and smell of the simulator leaving no conscious thought to remind them to stop for direction.
Then, he arrived.
A young blond boy walked toward me from the top of the stairs. He was a dead ringer for the young 10 year old Anakin Skywalker I’d seen in the Star Wars movies. He was dressed in Odyssey blue.
“Papers,” I requested as I reached out to straighten his uniform with his shoulders. I didn’t see them in either of his hands so I assumed they were tucked away in a pocket.
He raised his arm and extended it near my face.
“You don’t want to see my papers,” he said. His eyes focused on mine. His look was stern and determined.
I’ve been taking papers from thousands and thousands of students on the Bridge for the last twenty years and not once has anyone said that to me. A proper response escaped me.
“I need to see your Boarding Pass,” I repeated the demand.
He waved his hand across my face and repeated, “You don’t NEED to see my papers.”
It was then I realized who I was talking to. A Jedi Knight was standing in front of me on my own ship’s bridge, a very young Jedi Knight.
“You’re powers of persuasion are useless here Jedi,” I said my most sinister voice. He smiled and, without delivering a Boarding Pass, walked on to examine every part of the Bridge.
That young boy was clever. He didn’t have his Boarding Pass, so instead of just saying he didn’t have one, he use his imagination and turned the situation. Instead of me thinking he was just another boy suffering from terminal absent mindedness, I thought he was the most clever boy I'd encountered at the top of my stairs this year. Instead of him becoming just another forgotten face like the hundreds and hundreds I see each week, he will be remembered for a long time because he employed the power of creativity.
The lesson is one for all to remember. Imagination is a power as commanding as the Force, and you’ve been blessed with one. Use it or lose it.
Thank you young Jedi for a moment of brilliance this morning. The memory of your seven second interaction with me will last for years to come because you’ve just been given your own post on the Space Center's Blog - whoever you are.
Saturday, January 22, 2011
Just another Saturday at the Space Center. Our Overnight Camp ends in a little more than thirty minutes. I'm at my desk in the semi darkness typing this post while landing parties sulk and creep around me on their way to alien worlds and derelict ships (all magically housed on our simple school stage, propped with chairs and PE equipment. We really do rely on our camper's imaginations. Somehow it all comes together to work).
I'd like to discuss a few honors awarded during last week's post overnight camp meeting.
Here you see me in true form with an enthusiastic smile. This is a miracle in itself considering my serious lack of sleep on any given overnight camp. You'll also notice the well groomed hair, dusted with a perfect combination of black and gray to deliver a properly distinguished look.
Oh, and I'm giving Nicole her 5 year service pin. Good work Nicole.
In this picture you see me acting as if I was caught off guard by the snapping of the photograph. All done in jest to illicit laughter from the staff and volunteers. Of course my attention to the camera instead of the sharp end of the pin and the tightening of the lanyard, may have resulted in a small puncture wound and rash around the subject's neck - but again, all done in good fun for the camera.
Oh, that's Brittney also receiving her 5 year service pin. Good Job.
Here I am standing in the background looking over the results from the surveys taken at the end of the Overnight Camp. My time on stage is always cut short by these honors which, at times, results in a shortage of patience on my part. Not to worry though because isn't it all about the staff and campers? Who am I anyway? I'm just someone that is modest to a fault, always thinking of others.
By the way, that's Dave awarding Mason his Phoenix pin. Good Job Mason
That's my elbow seen edging into the picture on the left. Notice how I stay out of the picture, again always seeking to draw attention away from myself and onto my awesome volunteers and staff. Some ask how I've been able to achieve so much, yet remain such a humble man who shuns attention. It hasn't been easy, considering the sheer volume of my awesomeness. I have to constantly force charisma into the recesses of my being, but I do it day in and day out. "I'm a natural emotional wonder," I like to say to myself.
Oh, that's Emily awarding Mason his Odyssey Pin. Good Job Mason.
I won't say another word. Modesty insists.
P.S. All kidding aside, Congratulations to Brittney and Nicole for reaching the 5 year mark at the Space Center. What outstanding young ladies and valuable members of our flight teams. We really have the best employees and volunteers in Utah County. They are a privilege to work with because their awesomeness makes my life as director much easier.
Excelling work Mason for two ship passes. An example to all the volunteers.
By Karen Rowan,
Life's Little Mysteries Managing Editor
The human race could be devastated if aliens were to learn of our existence and venture to Earth, warned British scientist Stephen Hawking on Sunday. Aliens have already viciously attacked our spacecraft, savagely kidnapped us, heartlessly conducted experiments on us, and mercilessly aimed their death-rays at us, but of course, all of these crimes have been committed only in novels and movies.
Other experts who, like Hawking, have devoted their careers to thoughtful exploration of the possibilities of alien contact say that we don't have anything to fear.
"In movies, aliens only come here for two reasons," Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) told Life's Little Mysteries. "They either come here to find some resource they don't have on their own planet, or they want to use us for some unauthorized breeding experiment." These scenarios play on our most primal human fears of losing the resources we need to survive or not being able to reproduce, Shostak said.
In reality, it isn't logical to think that aliens would want to do either of those things, Shostak said. Space travel is expensive and requires an enormous investment, he said.
"Anything that we have here, they could find where they live," Shostak said. If there was a resource found on Earth that did not exist on the aliens' home planet, there would certainly be easier ways to get or make the resource than coming here.
And if an alien civilization was advanced enough to engage in interstellar travel, they would also probably have very advanced robotic machines, Shostak said. If they wanted to research our planet, they would be more likely to send those machines here than to come here themselves.
"It's not like, the hatch will open and we'll see a strange, alien paw coming out," he said. "It's more likely to be a robotic arm."
Contact with aliens is extremely unlikely, agrees David Morrison, Director of Space at NASA-Ames Research Center. Any communication that may occur would likely be in the form of radio waves sent from one civilization to another, he said.
"We’re listening for radio signals," Morrison said, "And we can assume that any civilization that we receive a signal from is more advanced than we are."
We have only had the technology to listen and send radio waves for the last century, so if an alien radio signal reaches us from a distant planet hundreds or thousands of light-years away, that civilization would have to be more advanced than ours, Morrison said.
Morrison doubts that an advanced alien civilization would come here to harm us.
"Someone once suggested that if a civilization can last for hundreds of thousands of years, it almost surely has solved the problems we have. I would hope so," Morrison said.
Even if aliens existed, knew about us, and could travel here, they wouldn't be likely to send an army or the equipment needed to launch an attack on the Earth, said science fiction writer Jack McDevitt.
"Imagine putting together an invasion force, only to stick them in containers to travel here for years," McDevitt said.
Although contact between humans and aliens has been a key part of many of McDevitt's books, he doesn't think that it's likely to actually happen. It would take a great amount of time for aliens to reach Earth, and any civilization capable of this feat would not want to delegate its fighting force to the task, he said.
We have bigger problems to worry about, McDevitt said.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Anyone in the mood for an Overnight Camp? We have a few openings this weekend.
The camp starts Friday at 7:00 P.M. and ends Saturday morning at 10:00 A.M. The cost is $43.00 per person. You will be joining students from Lindon Elementary School and other Utah schools. All participants must be between 10 and 14 years old.
If you are interested in attending, please call the Space Center at 801.785.8713. Leave your name and phone number and someone will return your call.
Monday, January 17, 2011
A Monday without responsibility. I could see across the valley from my front window this morning. The depressive inversion was lifted. I stepped outside to fill my lungs with clean air only to find many of my neighbors were doing the same. We all stood on our driveways with arms outstretched as if we were in devout supplication to God taking in clear sunshine and crystal air. There would have been dancing in the streets if music were present (and thank goodness there wasn't because the sight of me dancing in the streets would bring fits of uncontrollable laughter which could result in sudden brain hemorrhages in my more elderly neighbors).
So, without responsibility I sit. Perhaps I'll post something that reflects my lifted mood.
Have I forced a smile yet? Come on, how many of us see ourselves in the cartoon above? Don't be embarrassed. Celebrate your inner nerd.
How about another.
I'm thinking that I like the word Planeteers. I'm really liking the word Planeteers. You'd all better watch out because when I like something I have been know to do crazy things.
What's that? An idea?......
Yes, I think I'll start calling all volunteers "Planeteers". Would you like to tell everyone that you are a Planeteer? Kind of like the Space Center's version of Mouseketeers.
I put this here as an example of how some people problem solve. They see a problem and, instead of attacking it head on with both barrels blazing, they choose to ignore it. They believe it will either fix itself or someone else will deal with it. I heard this type of person say, "Won't it go away on its own?". Well, I suppose all problems solve themselves in the end. It's called death.
Have a Great What's Left. I'll see many of you in the Trenches this week.
Sunday, January 16, 2011
From Space Center Wikileaks.
What "They" Don't Want You to Know.
I hacked into the Space Center's Blog to share the following with you all. Read quickly because it will be deleted as soon as 'you know who' discovers it.
I won’t give you my identity because it would risk my status as a volunteer and hopefully a future employee. Let’s just say I’m someone who happens to be of a curious nature when it comes to all things Space Center. I asked Mr. Williamson once about the computer programs running the simulators. He explained that the Voyager’s controls were written in Hypercard. The other simulators were using Revolution.
“Soon we will have our first set of Cocoa controls in the Galileo,” he added with a look of satisfaction.
I knew the Space Center was a unique institution, the only of its kind on the planet, so I was naturally curious about who wrote the programs if they weren't available commercially. Mr. Williamson looked surprised by my question and asked for my name (he has a tendency to forget my name but that’s OK, he’s busy and I’m just one of many faceless volunteers that darken the Space Center’s walls on a regular basis). I said my name and he promptly wrote it on a sticky note. Below my name he put a check mark with the words “Too Curious” scribbled in a manuscript barely legible. I pretended to hear someone call my name and lied about being called for an acting part. I walked away shaken by his reaction.
I found a blue shirt Supervisor who had befriended me in the past and asked him the same question. He said he would tell me what he knew but made me swear never tell anyone where I got the information. He took me by the elbow and walked me down the hall toward the Faculty Room. We stopped and stepped into a classroom’s doorwell.
“The Space Center has its own IT department but its kept hush hush. Only Mr. Williamson and his most senior staff know who they are and where they work. For your own survival as a volunteer, I suggest you never mention programming again. Let’s just say that lose lips sink volunteers and ships.”
He told me he knew a few other things and if I was really serious about learning one of the Space Center's darkest secrets to return to this doorwell again after the last of the staff left the building after the 2:30 P.M. missions ended. He stepped from the doorway, looked up and down the hall and walked quickly back toward the Odyssey.
One hour later I went to the Faculty Room to buy a soda. I heard people talking and stopped before anyone saw me. I peeked into the room. Emily, Stacy and Jon were huddled around the pop machine. I could barely make out what they were saying
“They’re starting the Voyager Controls then?” Emily asked.
“Today,” Jon replied. “I think Mr. Williamson is going down there to meet with them after we all leave.”
“I’ll give him my art work to take with him. They’ll need it,” Emily said.
“What are they like,” Jon asked. From the question I gathered that Stacy was the only one who had actually met someone from IT.
“You don’t want to know,” Stacy replied.
“Come on, tell us something,” Jon stepped closer into the huddle, bringing Emily with him.
“Well, I could tell they hadn’t seen the sun in a long time. Their skin is prison pallor white and slightly transparent. I could just see veins streaking like lightening across their cheeks and necks.”
I heard someone else approaching and knew it was time to step into the room to buy my soda. I cleared my throat and stepped in. The huddle immediately broke apart.
“What do you want?” Emily said perturbed.
“Just a soda,” I answered sheepishly. She motioned me forward. I stepped up to the coin receptacle, dropped in four quarters, made my selection and left as quickly as I could.
The flights ended at 5:00 P.M. I stayed behind pretending to be waiting for my ride. I hid in a classroom doorway and waited for Jon to leave. He is always the last to leave the Center on a Saturday. At 5:40 P.M. I heard the school's front doors latch shut. Jon was gone leaving only the custodian in the building mopping the floors in the new addition. I was alone in the old section. I walked back to the doorway where the Supervisor and I had met earlier. There, taped to the door, was an envelope. I removed it and found a map of the school with detailed descriptions on how to get into the building when no one was there. Arrows pointed the way down the south hallway and into a section of the building I’d never seen. Under it he’d written “Good Luck” with a red pen.
Today I woke with a determination to solve the mystery of the Space Center’s IT department. I faked sick to stay home from church. Once the family was gone I hopped on my bike and peddled the few miles to the school. I walked around the building once looking for cars. There were none. The building was empty.
I entered the school from the door I’d left partly ajar the night before.
The school was quiet. It was weird. Usually the sound of explosions, music and kids shouting and screaming filled the vacuum. I took out the map, paused to get my bearings, and proceeded down the hallway - past the front doors and office.
I walked toward the Cafeteria and Faculty Room. The sound of my footsteps echoed off the brick walls. Needless to say I was spooked and terrified I'd get caught. But, as I wrote earlier, I am of a curious disposition.
There is was just like the map said. "Look for a hallway with ramp and Fallout Shelter sign".
I was curious why a Fallout Shelter sign was on the wall in the first place. Fallout Shelters disappeared from American's lexicon in the 1980's. Why was this sign still there? I also noticed the arrows pointing down the hallway were scratched away.
I turned and looked down the cold, dimly lit hallway. The air was thick, carrying a feeling of gloom. I was tempted to abandon my quest, but considering what I'd risked to get that far, I decided to soldier on. I started my descent down the ramp.
"Look for a door labeled 'Boiler Room'." the map said. "If you're willing to stare into the abyss then go through that door." There was nothing else written. It seemed the Supervisor abandoned his attempt to learn the truth at this point. He failed. I wouldn't. I had to go on.
I picked the lock and slowly opened the door. I was met by a concrete stairway descending down below the main level of the school, ending in a room illuminated by a single lightbulb. My heart raced. Sweat formed on my forehead.
"Hello," I said hoping there would be no response. There wasn't. I repeated my greeting. It was again met by silence. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained," I mumbled and stepped into the mystery and down the stairway.
I knocked on the bricks and stepped back. I smiled thinking how absurd it was that I would even consider anyone could still be there, trapped behind that solid barrier. I turned to continue my explorations. It was then I heard the sound of someone or something scratching the brick from the opposite side of the wall from where I was standing. The sound was very faint and stopped as abruptly as it had started. Needless to say I was freaked out..
I moved on, finding these signs near a door that looked like it hadn't been opened in decades.
The room lit by the single bulb held the school's Boiler, just as described on the door in the hallway at the top of the staircase. I tapped my chest to calm my speeding heart and continued.
I entered the Boiler Room. It was strangely quiet. I thought the boiler would be working, considering it was a cold winter day outside. To my left I found another stairway ascending into blackness.
There was a sound. I quickly turned 180 degrees to face a stairway in the cornor of the room. There was whispering coming from the stairway. I froze. I don't know how long I stood there motionless like a deer in a car's headlights. It seemed like an eternity before I found the courage to step lightly and move forward.
The stairway led up to a landing before turning 90 degrees. I walked closer and paused. A couple gulps of air gave me the oxygen to move forward the last three steps to see what was at the top. I looked up and froze. I was sure I saw one eye peering at me from around the corner at the top of the landing. The eye and forehead vanished, leaving behind the sound of footsteps as whoever it was moved down what sounded like another concrete hallway.
I had a decision to make. Would I continue in my quest for the illusive IT department or cash in my lucky chips and leave?
TO BE CONTINUED........
The Truth Will Prevail