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Sunday, April 5, 2009

What? More Space Center News? Don't Those People Ever Rest?

Out of the Fat and Into the Fire

Its an old saying. One of those phrases passed from generation to generation. You use it when you want to describe a condition where you leave the comfort and safety of routine and enter a situation that forces you to exceed your grasp from the sitting position.

This weekend we threw two unsuspecting innocents into the fire. They were clueless to the danger waiting for them when they left their mother’s loving embraces and journeyed forth to the Space Center. I waited for them at 6:15 P.M. in the gym where we were gathering for our pre camp staff meeting. They were both on time and planted themselves on the top riser. I sat at the Sign In Table thinking of of the terror I was about to unleash. I was moments away from creating a memory for these two young teenagers that would stay with them throughout their life, and there they sat - completely clueless. They current stress free condition, thinking this camp would be like the countless others they’ve worked, was about to end. It was 6:15 P.M.

“Adam,” I said. He looked at me thinking I was asking him where he wanted to work.
“Odyssey,” came his reply to the question I didn’t ask.
“Yes, you’re in the Odyssey. In fact, you’re running the Odyssey on this camp. You’ll be the Flight Director.”

An interesting thing happens to humans when backed into a corner with no escape. The face muscles force the tissue around the eyes to expand, thus making one's eyes ‘pop out’. The mouth forms the the first sound of the word “What?”. The neck muscles turn the head slightly back and forth in the negative. I saw all of those reactions in Adam. He mumbled something about not being ready. I’d heard all the excuses from other current flight directors when they were drafted and thrust in the FD’s chair. The excuses wash off me like water off a duck’s back. Adam didn’t have a choice. I’d made the decision for him and that was that.

“Adam, You’ll have Emily there beside you in the Second Chair. She’s an EMT. I’ll have her monitor your blood pressure and take your temperature throughout the camp. If you go septic she will step in but ......You'll need to be so ill that Emily must hear death rapping on the Control Room door before she intervenes and takes the mission from you.” Adam nodded. He understood it was time to step up to the plate and bat. You can stay in the bullpen only so long before its time to show the team what you’ve got.

There was a faint rosey color returning to his deathly white cheeks. I could tell he was calming down. I had complete faith in Adam. I’d heard him multiple times acting in the Odyssey while sitting at my desk and felt he had the talent to be Flight Direct - even if he was only fifteen years old.

My next victim would take the news I was about to give him differently. “Spencer,” I said to Spencer M. “I’m making you a supervisor in the Voyager for this camp.”
He looked at me and smiled. The smile disappeared as quickly as it formed when he realized he had displayed emotion. Spencer is a half breed - half human / half vulcan. He has emotions but chooses not to show them. He thinks that displaying feelings gives your opponents an advantage over you, so he lives his life like he's playing million dollar poker at a Vegas casino. His hands are played without a twitch - win or lose - Spencer always looks the same to the casual bystander.

Spencer shrugged his shoulders to signify his indifference to the promotion. He had to show a true English attitude to those sitting around him. I knew better. I’ve known Spencer for three years. I’ve learned to read him by looking for the right combination of expressions . Happiness is shown with a momentary flicker of a smile accompanied by a supersonic glance of his eyes in one direction. If you blink you’ll miss it. Sadness and boredom are harder to differentiate.

I wanted to force a smile out of Spencer after giving him the news. Getting an emotional response out of him is the ultimate challenge for anyone that likes to think of themselves as an amateur comedian. I turned to the rest of the staff and said, “I tried all the Supervisors and none of them could take the camp. So.... when you’re desperate you have to do things you would never do. I’m having to scrape the bottom of the barrel on this assignment. Hence, Spencer is the Supervisor tonight.”
Spencer favored me with a normal smile that lasted 2.3 seconds. He appreciates a more refined humor, sugared heavily in satire and topped with whipped cynicism. It is his drink of choice. He respects anyone that can prepare and deliver it to his exacting taste.

Adam and Spencer started the evening as boys and ended the camp as .... well, I want to say men but that would be a lie. Let’s say they ended the camp as bigger boys. Boys that can now feed themselves and can use the potty. They are boys that can tie their own shoes and look both directions before crossing the street. Yes, they matured during this camp. I’m proud of their performance and want to thank them for their hard work.

The Chocolate Doughnut Test

I did something unusual on Saturday morning. In addition to the six dozen vitamin rings (glazed doughnuts) I buy at WalMart at 6:00 A.M. every other Saturday morning (Mr. Daymont collects them on the Saturday’s he works the overnight camps) I decided to treat the staff to something different. I looked for the day olds bakery display but found it hadn’t been restocked, so I looked at the bakery's fresh offerings. The blueberry doughnuts looked reasonably digestible so I purchased a dozen.

I woke the staff up at 6:40 A.M. The boys (staff and campers) were sleeping in the gym. There were more girls on this camp so they were sleeping in the Voyager and Odyssey. The staff boys had instructions to quietly gather their belongings from the stage where they were sleeping. Quietly was the stated goal. Quietly wasn’t what I got. A moment later I heard the crashing sound of several hula hoops hitting the stage floor. One of our young volunteers wasn’t quiet awake as he navigated his way off the dark stage. That misstep woke him up for sure, not to mention several of the slumbering campers sleeping on the gym floor. Drats!

Every Saturday morning the staff and volunteers get together in Discovery at 6:50 A.M. for doughnuts and stories of the night before. Everyone was perplexed by the change in routine when I opened the blueberry doughnuts. Standard procedure dictated the staff receive glazed doughnuts. Today they had something different. I assured them the sky wasn’t falling and hell hadn’t frozen over during the night. They looked at me oddly, wondering why I would spend a little extra for the fancy blueberries, given how I pinch pennies whenever I can. I’m a believer you can get water from a rock and a profit from a camp.

I sat in the back of the room and listened to them talk. The conversations bored me. I thought I’d interject a little humor into the gathering, of course at someone’s expense. I waited for my victim to walk through the classroom door. It didn’t take long. Twelve year old Houston stumbled into the room, saw the doughnuts, walked to the box and stared at the selection. He was confused.
“Houston, they’re all chocolate doughnuts. Take one,” I said. The rest of the staff stopped chewing the blueberry doughnuts and stared at me wondering what I was talking about. “They’re chocolate doughnuts,” I said again while giving them that look you give when you don’t want someone to let the cat out of the bag and spoil the joke. They understood.

Houston sat down. Looked again at the doughnut and took a bite. No reaction. He took another bite. Again, no reaction. What was up with that? Couldn’t he tell the difference between a chocolate blueberry doughnut or were the WalMart doughnuts really that tasteless?
“Houston, those are blueberry doughnuts,” I said. The staff broke into laughter. Houston blamed a serious lack of sleep for his inability to taste. The joke worked - somewhat. I wanted another victim.

Josh A. walked into Discovery. Selected a blueberry doughnut from the box and sat down. This time everyone was in on the joke. “Josh,” I said. “I bought chocolate doughnuts for the staff this morning.” Josh noticed everyone was staring at him.
“What?” he asked the thirteen pairs of eyes. No one spoke. He took a bite of the ‘chocolate’ doughnut. No reaction. He took another bite.
“What?” he asked again. The unwanted attention was unnerving him.
“Josh, that’s a blueberry doughnut,” I said. Everyone laughed. Josh used the same excuse as Houston for not knowing the difference between chocolate and blueberry. What started as an innocent joke on two unsuspecting staff turned into a study of early morning awareness. Were sleep deprived teenagers unable to taste food? Further testing is required. The results will be posted when the study is complete.

A Knife in. A Knife out and my Bleeding Ego

Last Tuesday was hard on my ego. I met my nemesis on the 11:30 A.M. mission. His name is forgotten but his attitude will never be. I noticed something different about the class when they ascended the spiral stairs to the Voyager Bridge. Instead of hearing overwhelming "Ohhhs and Ahhhhs" I heard nothing. Some had a look of total indifference. Several of the boys had that serious ‘skater’ look to them - long hair and the bone crushing tight girl’s jeans. I’ve worked long enough to realize a tough audience when I saw one.

My nemesis was on the Right Wing Power Station. He reeked of distaste. You could see from his body language that he didn’t want to be there. When he finished training I took his mp3 player. He asked me how long this ‘thing’ would last. I told him another hour or so. He gave me that painfully contoured teenage look you get when you tell them they have to do something they regard as totally uncool.
“I don’t what to be here,” he said.
“Would you like to go to another room during the mission?” I asked, wondering just how serious he was about not wanting to go on the mission. He surprise me by jumping out of his chair ready to go. “You can’t leave without your teacher’s permission,” I said walking away. He went to his teacher and begged to be taken off the ship. The teacher wouldn’t hear of it and promised him it would be fantastic. He didn’t look convinced and went back to his seat. He slumped down in the chair to the point where the top of his head was the only visible part of his body.

He wasn’t the first to display such an attitude. Many times in the past I’ve had to deal with teenagecoolitus, and in nearly every case I successfully brought them around by the end of the mission. This boy was going to be a tough nut to crack but I’m the great OZ. I can dazzle anyone. Can't I? The mission started. My back was against the wall the moment the Captain spoke. He was another one that didn’t want to be there. His voice displayed a lack of respect for the adventure. I will give him one star for at least doing his job. I was afraid my nemesis wouldn’t. The boy’s first order came from the captain. He carried it out. I was surprised by that. At least the boy wasn’t going to try to sabotage the mission for the others.

The mission went painfully slow. I was doing everything in my power to make the experience fun for the Sith Lord. I just couldn't wipe his attitude away no matter how many alerts and intruders I threw at him. I was loosing the battle.

Perikoi ends with a fantastic chase scene and escape from certain death. Almost all crews give me a rousing cheer at the end as they escape vaporization from the exploding USS Copernicus. This one didn’t. The red alert lights were switched to white when the mission ended.
“Captain and crew, our time is up,” I said. I watched my nemesis for his reaction. Would he display any sign of enjoyment?

He didn’t. He was the first to jump from his chair and remove his uniform. He was rushing to get off the ship. His teacher had to sit on him to keep him from running everyone else down. I had failed in my attempt to turn him from the dark side.

The school departed leaving me sitting alone in the Voyager's Control Room surprised one class could have so many imagination dead children. It was the worst case I’d ever seen in a sixth grade class. I wondered if we were living in a time when children were growing up faster then in previous generations. Was the magic of childhood being replaced with the desire to be cool and 'fit in' sooner than it should? I took my bruised ego, bandaged it and went about my business. “One defeat among how many success?” I told myself.

The next day Valley View Elementary arrived for their field trip. I waited for the sixth grades at the top of the spiral stairs. I was still nursing my injury from the day before. The first few came up from the Crew Quarters.
“Wow......” the first boy said as his eyes took in the sights and sounds of the Bridge. He was enthralled. A scab began to form on my open wound.
“This is soooooo cooool!” several others said as they handed me their boarding passes. My wound was now completely scabbed over.

Then, my healer ascended the stairway in the form of a twelve year old boy with brown hair. He stopped at the top of the stairs and stared in rapture at his surroundings. I asked him for his pass. He looked at me, mumbled something that made my heart jump, and walked forward to give me his Boarding Pass. “What did you say,” I asked him. I needed to hear what he said.
“Nothing,” he answered as he stood there waiting for me to take his pass. I wasn’t about to let his statement slip away. I had to hear what he said.
“No... you said something about being here. What was it?” I prodded not willing to drop the subject. He looked at me almost embarrassed to repeat the comment. I could see he was at the time in life when what he felt and what he said needed to be filtered. Its a teenage thing. We all lived through it and most of us luckily grew out of it.

He could see I wasn’t going to drop it. “I said I’ve waited my whole life to be here,” he said with a sense of wonderment in his voice. The scab on my ego dropped off that instant. I was healed. I’m sure my nemesis felt my satisfication all the way to South Jordan.
“Thank you,” I said as I took his Pass and showed him to his seat. “That made my day,” I added as he sat down.

The magic was back. The darkness lifted. My faith in childhood restored. Imagination was vindicated. With my healing came a sadness that there are hundreds of thousands of children in this world that are growing up far faster than they should. Blame it on the internet or television or poor parenting or whatever....... the fact remains true.

Hold on to the magic of childhood to the end of your days. You’ll live a richer, fuller life and that is the Williamson guarantee.

News on the New Galileo

I want to thank Kyle Herring and the Capstone students at BYU for their work on the new Galileo. It was presented to the public last Thursday. I’m told that our little ship was the Belle of the Ball and the favorite of the attendees.

We even made the newspapers! Check out the following stories and photographs.,5143,705294811,00.html

Matt Long and Alex DeBirk inside the Galileo's Frame

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