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Monday, November 8, 2010

Thoughts on our 20th Anniversary. November 8, 1990 - November 8, 2010

Hello Troops,
Twenty Years have come and gone. I remember November 8, 1990 very well. I was
nervous. I had doubts. I questioned whether I knew what I was doing. Others I felt had thoughts concerning my sanity.

This whole endeavor 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 exploded 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 laser disc 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 the laser disc player and VCR. 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 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 6th grade class.

I 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 up for renegotiation. 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 20 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. And every time the thought surfaces I wait at the school until everyone is gone and walk onto the Voyager's Bridge. I sit under the dim lights
in the Captain's chair and look at the walls. I imagine the voices of 250,000 children swirling around the room locked in the very fabric of the ship. I look over at the left wing and see the original staff training crews by hand before the days of training tapes and mp3 players. I see Jacob Bartlett 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 to frighten Security. I see our many young volunteers growing up in that simulator from elementary school to junior high to senior high and then jumping ship into life. I hear the screams, the laughing, and the quiet that came from sadness when Blossom, the Paklid, died in a fiery crash into a planet so many years ago. They are good memories. They've given me a good life.

Several minutes later I'll stand and run my hand along the black metal guard rail surrounding the captain's platform and know that this place is home. Why would I ever want to leave it? And so, I think I'll stay awhile longer, if you'll all keep me.

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 when that day comes. It may be a museum this future generation 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 long ago to far away places.

Thank you everyone for twenty years. Thank you volunteers for the hours of time you give us each month. Thank you staff for always going above and beyond the call of duty. We are all involved in creating lasting memories that will stay with our students forever.

And now, we set sail for another 20!

Mr. Williamson

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