Contact Victor Williamson with your questions about simulator based experiential education programs for your school.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Death of One of Our Own.

Jackson Miller
Joined Staff: September 17, 2005
Overnight Hours: 76
Daytime Hours: 97.5
Last Mission: June 15, 2007
Died: May 20, 2008

On Tuesday a brave young man passed away from leukemia at the Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. Jackson Miller was a member of our Space Center volunteer family. He was a junior high student from Highland Utah. A few years ago Jackson was a regular volunteer. His favorite ship was the Magellan. He was here for the old Magellan’s last mission before the remodeling. He was soft spoken, polite, and always ready to do his best. I enjoyed his company in the Voyager many times. He was always smiling - that is what I’ll remember most about Jackson.
Jackson stopped coming to the Center. I wondered why. Later I discovered he had leukemia. He was fighting for his life. For a brief time his cancer went into remission. He returned home. He starting volunteering again. The chemotherapy took most of his hair but his smile was still there. I talked to him about his illness. His hopes were high.
Once again Jackson stopped coming. I learned he had a remission. He was admitted to the Primary Children’s Hospital. His family moved to Salt Lake to be closer to him.
I didn’t know how serious his condition was until a week ago Friday when a teacher friend of mine told me he was dying. I was preparing a letter to mail and a card from all of us when
the news of his death came on Tuesday.

I’m saddened we didn’t get to say goodbye while he was alive. I’ll say it now.

Goodbye Jackson. Thank you for sharing some of your precious few months of mortality with us. I’ll miss your smile and laughter. I’m proud to know that you loved the Space Center. I’m proud that our work brought some joy to your life.
You’re free Jackson.
It's time to fly..........

Mr. Williamson

Is This Heaven ?

A True Story
by Mr. Williamson

Sometimes we forget the magic of our Center in the day to day running of the business. At times like these we need a gentle reminder of the awesomeness of the Space Center and what it means to some of the kids that come here.
Two weeks ago I had such a reminder. It was the morning mission. The bus arrived at 9:30 A.M. The students were bathroomed and lined up in the mural hallway by ship and position. I made my way to the bridge of the Voyager after a quick stop in the Control Room to start the loading music and sound effects. It was the end of the school year. I was tired of the music and tired of the mission. Its kind of a strange thing that only flight directors understand. You may be in tired, foul mood as you load your crew into the ship and train them to do their jobs but once you sit in your Flight Director’s Chair and dive into your character my attitude changes and I’m once again ready to give the story 100 percent.
I wasn’t in a foul mood this particular day but I was tired. I stood on the bridge waiting for the first crew of kids to ascend the spiral stairway. I was thinking about the long day ahead - four missions! I wouldn’t finish the day before 7:00 P.M. with little time off for lunch and a potty stop.
The first few students approached me.
“Boarding Pass,” I said in my unemotional, official Soviet Airline Voice.
The students fumble for the crumpled paper in their pockets and produce a wadded up mess for me to hand iron into something openable. I read their position and direct them to their seats. The third boy up the stairs was a slow walker. Slow walkers hold up the line as they shuffle forward taking in the sights and sounds of the Voyager’s atmosphere. This particular boy was mumbling something as he approached me. I couldn’t hear him because the loading music was playing to loud. He stopped in front of me, looked into my eyes and mumbled. I still couldn’t hear what he was saying. He was unfolding a piece of paper that was clearly not the Boarding Pass I had requested. He looked at me again while holding out this hand written note on cheap lined newsprint. I took the paper and asked him what it was.
“Is this Heaven?” I heard him mumble. I stopped dead in mid sentence.
His brown eyes were looking right into mine. Those of you that know me know that I’m hardly ever at a loss for words but right there, in front of that 5th grade boy, I was speechless.
For a split second I thought he was having me on. This was some kind of joke. He was being sarcastic. I studied his face like only a teacher can, to determine the truth in a student's words. His face, voice, and mannerisms all signaled truthfulness.
“Is this Heaven?” he asked again reverently. I didn’t answer and redirected his thoughts.
“What do you have here?” I asked while taking the paper from him.
He had written ‘Sensors’ at the top in red ink. Below was a jumble of words that described what he thought he was and the job he imagined he would be doing.
“This is me,” he said pointing to the paper. “This is what I do.”
For a moment I felt like Saint Peter at the Gates of Heaven. Here before me was a soul asking if this was heaven. In his outstretched hand was a written note telling me who he was and what he did. It was his way of saying he was ready and prepared to enter.
I handed the paper back to him and took him by the shoulder. I wanted to take a page from the Wizard of Oz and say “No Dorothy, you’re not in Kansas any more,” but realized he wouldn’t understand the meaning. I walked him to his chair and sat him down.
“This isn’t heaven Sensors Officer. This is the Starship Voyager and Welcome Aboard!” I said before turning toward the growing line of his classmates waiting for my attention.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

My Lesson from Walking the Timp Cave Trail.

Spring time brings the blessing of new life and a renewed energy. I use my new found energy several times a week when I walk to the opening of Timp Cave in American Fork Canyon. I try to walk to the cave every day, but until school is out, my schedule will only allow weekend hiking. I’ve been walking the cave ever season (May through October) for nearly twenty years. I come back every year as if drawn by the beauty of the hike and the fresh air of the canyon.
Walking the trail to the cave opening keeps you in fairly good shape. Many parts are very steep. The walk, if moving briskly, usually takes around thirty to forty minutes. After a week or so I usually can cut my time to below thirty minutes. I enjoy passing the tourists along the trail. I sneak up behind them. They can’t hear me because of their heavy breathing, coughing, snorting, and spitting. “Excuse me,” I say a few steps from their heals. They sometimes misstep by surprise or scuffle to open the way for me to pass. I zoom ahead through the opening and listen to hear their comments.
“How does he do it?” is a common comment.
“Pretty fast for a big guy,” is another I hear.
“He wouldn’t be going so fast it he had this kid strapped to his back,” I heard once from a dad clearly having trouble making it up the trail with his little girl dangling out of that back pack child carrier.

Once I’m clear of them and out of ear shot I slow down a bit to conserve energy for the next group of tourists and the passing scenario starts all over again. Once in awhile, if I’m really feeling the wind of the gods in my lungs, I’ll jog by a group. I usually pick up a “WHAT?” from the stunned, slow moving herd, before they’re out of ear shot. It’s all I need to motivate me to continue doing it day after day.
The cave opening is at the top of the trail. There is a large waiting area where people gather before their tour. Here you find one of the worlds largest congregations of red faced humans. They stand leaning against each other or sprawled out on the benches. They fan themselves with their tickets and argue over who drank too much of their precious water - the water that must last through the tour and the long trek down the mountain.
Once I see my captive audience, I shift into first gear and pick up my pace. I stand taller and round the corner moving as quickly as my chubby frame will allow. They look up and stare. Their eyes follow me to the trail’s end. I touch the hiker’s rock, turn around, and start down. They expect me to stop and tour the cave but when they see that pass the benches and start down I quickly become the topic of conversation. I’ve heard them asking the Rangers why I do it and where’s my water.
“He’s a walker,” the Rangers say. “They are a different breed all together.”

The best part of the hike is downhill for two reasons.
1. You are going downhill. A pure reward for 30 plus minutes of torture.
2. You get to pass the people again that you passed earlier going up!

It is fantastic to pass these folks going down. They look at you coming their direction. You see the puzzled look in their faces as they try to place where they saw you before. Their eyes grow large and their mouths drop open when their oxygen deprived memory reminds them that I was the one that passed them earlier on my way up to the cave.
“Did you go through the cave already?” they usually ask.
“I don’t go through the cave. I just walk the trail for exercise,” I say with a confident smile.
“Is he crazy?” is the next thing I usually hear. Its awesome. I recommend walking the Timp Cave Trail to anyone that enjoys the outdoors and wants a good exercise program.

My Lesson Today
Early today I got up and drove to the cave. I like to hit the trail at 8:00 A.M. just as the Rangers open the gate. I was sore today. Yesterday the trail opened for the season so my muscles, still in atrophy from the inactive winter, were giving me fits. My time was slower than usually but it was Sunday and Sunday is my ‘non exercise’ walk. It is my day to take the trail slowly and enjoy nature. Half way up the trail I heard a sound behind me. It wasn’t close behind me but close enough to be heard. I turned around. In the distance was another trail walker. I didn’t know his name but I recognized him. He is younger and leaner than me and usually hikes the trail twice a day. He moves at a quick pace. He likes to pass everyone. Last season he was able to pass me . I didn’t want that to happen today. I picked up my pace. I went from my Sunday walk to my Monday walk.
At the 3/4 marker I noticed he was getting closer. He was breathing hard. My lungs were on overtime’s overtime. I wanted to slow down but there is this side of me that enjoys a good competition and I had one on my hands. I kept going. He kept trying to close the distance. The cave opening was getting closer. I rounded the last corner near the toilets and started up the most dangerous part of the trail. The trail follows the contour of the mountain and this section of the mountain is a cliff. One misstep and you will have a nasty fall on your hands. You must keep your eyes on the trail until you reach the waiting area.
I glanced off the trail at to find where he was. I saw him just below. I wanted to get an idea of his pace so I watched him for a few seconds. Thoughts of him beating me over and over again last year kept me focused on the distance between us. Suddenly I realized that I was walking dangerously close to the edge. I quickly put my eyes back on the trail and straightened my walk. My heart was beating faster and I chastised myself for being ‘so stupid’. I reached the Hiker’s Rock, touched it, and ended the day’s competition. I started down the trail. We passed each other with a “Good morning” and a comment on the amount of snow covering some parts of the trail.
I thought for a moment on the lesson I learned about keeping my eyes on the trail. The life lesson was apparent. So often we become preoccupied with the past. We keep our eyes behind us instead of focussed on the hear and now. Living like this will end if tragedy - like me nearly walking off the edge. Keeping our eyes on the past can lead to a loss of direction in life.
I encourage all to learn this lesson I was reminded of today on the Timp Cave Trail. Keep your eyes on today. The Lord gave you Today. It is a gift so make the very best of it. Don’t keep looking at the past. It is done and lived out. There is nothing you can do to change it. You can control the present. You are living it right now. Keep your eyes on the trail. Focus on where you are going but live for today. Love the people around you. Make good choices. Keep your eyes on the goal. It is a lesson we all need to relearn from time to time. Leave the past in the past. Live for Today. Make each moment count. The future will take care of itself if you choose to do the right today.

Enjoy your week.
Mr. Williamson

Sunday, May 4, 2008

News from the Space Center (With Some Side Distractions)

by Mr. Williamson

I’m tired today. I woke up too early and couldn’t go back to sleep. I reached for the TV Guide. A couple pages usually sends me back into unconsciousness. It didn’t work. I actually got through an article on Hannah Montana. Up until now I thought that was a small two horse Montana town a sneeze off Canada’s border. Kind of like Sidney Montana, the place I was born. Who ever heard of Sidney Montana? Its one of those towns you don’t mind saying ‘your from’. It automatically gives you some credit for attaining something in life even if you spend your days at an intersection holding a cup and poster saying “Save Yourself the next 5 minutes of Guilt and drop some Cash into the Cup!”.

Actually, If I had to live in Sidney today, I would consider joining the Peace Corps and accepting a position in Botswana, a nation in Africa right off the Coast of Despair. According to me, a very reliable source, the best thing to come out of Sidney was my family. When I was a toddler, just growing out of the cricket eating stage, my parents moved our trailer from Sidney to Spearfish, South Dakota. Would you like an analogy? Its like moving from a house with one bathroom to a house with two. No..... that isn’t quite correct. It is like moving to a house with two bathrooms AND a car port. This analogy can’t have a garage until I tell you about our move to Rapid City - but that is another story.

I learned how to crawl in Spearfish. I spent my days crawling around our trailer’s front door. I found I had an appetite for South Dakota dirt . That Montana stuff was too sandy for my liking and too hard on my toothless gums. I think I owe my current tolerance to almost any kind of food to those early, earth eating days.

I don’t remember living in that small trailer. I rely on my mother’s nostalgic memory for that. I’m told It was parked beside my grandparent’s garage, right off an alley lined with garbage cans and rusted bikes with flat tires. This is all great material for my future run for the White House. Everyone wishing to become President must have some kind of humble beginning. Abe Lincoln had his log cabin in the country and I have my Airstream trailer in the alley without a name. Most of time it was referred to as the place to “Toss it there, nobody will see”.

Now look...... I’m off track. You see what I mean when I tell you I’m tired today? What was I talking about? Hannah Montana? Let’s skip that and move on.

I want to write about the week’s happenings at the Space Center. I hope I have the time now that I’ve spewed several paragraphs about my childhood. I also must get back to my Mario Kart. I have a Wii. Yes, I’m a grown man with his own Wii. Come on, a guy has to have some fun in life! Wow, what a game system.

The last system I owned was a Pong system my grandmother bought me from Kmart in the 1970’s. It was unbelievable. There was this ball that moved from side to side on your TV screen. The object of the game was to hit the ball to the other side of the TV with your sliding controller. It was amazing! Our home became the primary source of after school entertainment for most of the kids in the neighborhood. We played Pong morning, noon, and night nonstop for about two days. After two days, something about the game became annoying. On the third day it was shoved under the TV. On the fourth day we forgot we owned it. We were back on our bikes, spending the afternoons at the dirt hills having dirt clod fights with the kids from the neighborhood.

Dirt clods can hurt - especially when thrown at close range by the star of the Little League team. Screams and tears would flow when dirt clods and heads came together at great speeds. The injured would jump on thier bikes and rushed home to mother. Most moms back then would look at the growing lump on the side your head, clean the blood away and ask if you were “Stupid, or something?”. Once cleaned up it was back to the dirt hills. You fought to the last kid standing - or until you got called home for supper.

OK..... I went off again.
Let’s get this done quickly. We did really well at the Space Center this last week. Spenser R. ripped the walls out of the Captain’s Quarters because of mold from the leaking roof (don’t get me started on that story).

The training by MP3 is getting better. I’m past wanting to flush them down the toilet. They have some use. We got new chairs for the Phoenix and Odyssey. The other ones were falling apart. They look cool. Alex A. is getting close to finishing the Phoenix controls. He has time to program and chat with the female staff now. I warned him about writing code and talking to girls. Not a good combination if you want to write error free code. Kids from all over Utah visited the Center this last week. Some kids came from as far away as Cedar City. We had a small overnight camp. Only 28 kids from Sego Lily. It was nice running a camp with small numbers. It almost seems like your not working at all. Bracken fixed the nozzle on the Voyager’s smoke machine. Before, most of the smoke intended for the Bridge ended up in the Control Room. Now, according to Bridger, the Left Wing kids disappear in the fog. You know they’re there because of the coughing and gasping - you can’t see them but you can hear them!
Wow, I got it all in. I think I’ll get back to my Mario Kart for the Wii.

I’m playing online now. A few hours ago I was up against kids from Japan, Germany, and France. I give them grief..... not because I win all the time - I wish. I cause them grief because I’m always in last place and Mario Kart gives the guy in last place the Dreaded Spiked Shell that speeds ahead when released, hunting down and attacking the character in first place. I Love IT.

Take Care and I’ll see you all at the Center!
Mr. Williamson