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Sunday, September 14, 2008

My Thoughts on Our Approaching 18th Birthday.

Hello Troops,
We are nearing the Space Center’s 18th birthday. Years have come and gone. I remember our first year very well. I had doubts. I questioned whether I knew what I was doing. I knew others were concerned about my sanity.

This concept of a Space Center all started with a Young Astronaut Club and a trip to Japan. I saw a school with a small shuttle simulator and wanted one for my club at Central. Suddenly the dream took on its own life. The little ship Pegasus, destined to be built where the Odyssey is now, had morphed into the Voyager – a new addition build onto the school.
So many people were drawn into the project. Great amounts of money and manpower were spent. It had to succeed but I didn't know what `it' was. Failure wasn't an option. I didn't sleep well those first years. My health suffered. My poor heart never completely recovered. The anxiety attacks, I'm happy to say, lasted three years and ended. I had a building but no real understanding what to do with it. I envisioned a science lab on board a futuristic spaceship but that idea never took root. I experimented with a scientific mission to Mars. There are people that remember that first school mission. We flew at warp speed using HyperCard controls I programmed. Once there we used a Mars laserdisc for special effects. We flew around the planet learning about its climate and features. I stood on the bridge next to the Tactical screen. My 6th grade staff (2 kids) sat in the control room listening and waiting for clues on when to play and pause. How primitive it was compared to what we do now. After a few Mars missions I felt something was missing. The students showed little
excitement. They were just bodies sitting at the computers listening to me. I was in command giving the captain orders on where to go and what to do. It wasn't working.

I thought back to my days in the classroom with the overhead projector, boom box, and paper controls. Then the idea came – do what you've proven successful. Introduce some drama. I quickly pulled a few of my "Star Trek" videos and, using two of the school's VCR's, I edited an ending with of a Romulan warbird showing up orbiting Mars.
It was a crazy idea but crazy ideas built the Center. I guess being willing to act on crazy impulses is a character trait I should be proud of.

The idea of adding the Romulan scene at the end of the mission worked well. The kids got excited to see the Romulan ship. The little battle thrown into the end of the Mars mission was successful. It convinced me that my original idea of taking a class on an EdVenture into space would work with the general public like it did with my
captive class. I quickly sat down and wrote another mission. I believe it was called "Epsilon". It was a story of a planet in the Klingon Neutral Zone. Half the planet was under Federation control and the other was under Klingon control. The treaty, allowing joint control of the planet, was soon to be reviewed. The planet would be awarded to the government that demonstrated it could best care for the planet's population.

The story had the Voyager entering the Neutral Zone bringing a new kind of wheat to the planet. This new wheat was genetically engineered to grow well in the planet's harsh climate. The Voyager had a few close calls on the way to the planet and a few others while in orbit. At the end of the mission our classes left the Voyager so
excited. I knew I had found the formula and the rest, as they say, is history.

Now here we are nearly 18 years later. The one ship is five. Our stories are much more complicated. Our simulators are ten times more sophisticated. Our work force has exploded but here I am – still sitting at the helm of the Voyager with microphone in hand. The years have taken their toll. I'm getting older and gray but the magic is
still there. Someone once asked me If I would ever move on. I've thought about that many times over the years. Sometimes, when everyone is gone, I go onto the Voyager's Bridge and sit under the dim lights in the Captain's chair. I look at the walls. I imagine the voices of 225,000 children swirling around the room - in the very fabric of the ship. I look over at the left wing and see the original staff training students at their stations long before the days of training tapes. I see Jacob over in the corner asleep when he should be doing his job as a bridge staff. I hear Russell downstairs playing the blind doctor. I watch a much younger Mr. Schuler coming up the stairs in full Star Trek uniform. I hear a child's voice shout, "Admiral on the Bridge!" I still see that silly mask popping up over the loft and staring at Security. I hear the screams, the laughing, and the quiet that came from sadness when Blossom died in a fiery crash into a planet so many years ago. The memories are happy and so I think I'll stay awhile longer.

Perhaps some day video game technology will become so evolved that children will do one of our missions at home connected to some kind of virtual reality machine. The computer will play my part, telling the story and reacting to the kid's decisions. The class will sit with goggles covering their eyes showing them the bridge of some futuristic ship. Gloves will give them the feel of working the controls. Perhaps the Voyager will still be around. A museum they will visit with their grandparents. As they tour the simulator the sounds of our voices and the blaring music with red alerts will mix with their grandparent's stories of when they flew the Voyager to places far distant.

Thank you everyone for eighteen years. It has been a long road and we are far from our destination, whatever that is. The road has been a pleasant one because of good company. Thank you to our customers and students for believing in the Center and attending our camps and programs. Thank you to the staff and volunteers for the time and effort. The pay isn't great but you're helping me create lasting memories that will stay with our students forever.

Mr. Williamson
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