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

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Christa McAuliffe Space Center Celebrates its 28th Anniversary Today. The Green Machine Fondly Remembers the Center in Its Early Years. The Imaginarium.

The Space Center in 1990 started with one simulator, the Voyager and the Briefing Room (currently where the
Odyssey and Phoenix are located. The picture above is me giving my bridge speech before the crew
launches on their field trip.  This picture was taken in 1990.

Hello Space Center Fans!
     Today, the CMSC celebrates its 28th anniversary.  Of course back then it was called The Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center. I named the Space Center after Christa McAuliffe, the teacher/astronaut who died on the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986.
     That night, all those years ago, was absolutely insane.  We used the school's gym and library as the staging areas for tours of the USS Voyager Simulator (the Voyager Mission Simulator - VMS as it was called back in the day).  Both rooms were packed full of people with long lines down the school's hallway.  That night, Central Elementary School was the place to be. Senator Jake Garn was there to officially open the Center.  Our small staff of myself and several junior high Young Astronaut Club volunteers led the tours through the simulator.  It was a night to remember.    
     In honor of this milestone, The Green Machine - Jay Johnson - sent the following thoughts to share with you Troubadours.  Jay was one of our top volunteers back in the day and competing for the title of El Supremo Space Center Fan and Supporter today.  Please take a moment to read Jay's essay. You'll enjoy it.  Happy 28th Anniversary.

Thank you,
Mr. Williamson 

The normal reaction to a Voyager mission

Memories on 28 Years
By The Green Machine (Jay Johnson)
     I'm old school Space Center, 24 years ago this year, actually.  I'm sure things changed substantially after I left. After all, the center was still finding its footing as an educational facility. But in my day, youngsters, it was nothing more than a playground. Some fond memories of mine (and Vic, some of these may require some explaining):
     Watching Bill running around the bridge as Mad Dog. I'm telling you, I still caught him dancing ever so slightly up the stairs the morning after that one overnight. Hand on the Bible truth. And nobody could dance to "Heart Of Glass" quite like Bill, whether he'll admit to it or not.
The old Galileo. The Captain waiting for launch.
     Playing the "Holographic Doctor" who almost always became involved in one of Vic's evil off-the-cuff schemes because he couldn't let the crew outsmart him (never did get over being locked in that closet, thank you very much).
     Kidnapping Captains and seeing the look of absolute amazement and awe in their eyes when they sat on the bench, watching the magic happen behind the curtain.

     Charging security dressed up as Roull, and hoping to God you didn't get your keister handed to you when the crew actually "got it" and drafted the two biggest, nastiest kids in the class as security guards. I was always a big kid, but man, some of those security monsters.. I didn't know they made them in those sizes. 
The original Galileo
     Finding yourself in the middle of the Voyager set and arguing with Vic in character over the intercom, desperately trying hard not to laugh because you knew what was going on.
     The Clown Mask. My, my. How many kids did we send home on overnighters because of the kitchen basement and the mask combination? I think, to a certain extent, we took it as a personal challenge to try and get at least one a month. 
     Crawling through the halls of Central at 10 at night to the Terminator 2 soundtrack. Nothing really compared. 
     Separating the saucer, and watching the ship crash to the Last Of The Mohicans soundtrack.
Vic's taste in music.
     Math class before the Center in the mornings. Vic still teaches Pre-Algebra from the very same book he taught me from 24 years ago. No joke.
     For a short period, being the only one on the staff who could manage all three of the major stations in the Voyager pit, including Video. By myself. I will never forget the expression both before and after that mission on Vic's face. 
     Taking over the communications computer, and watching the kid who's sitting there freak out on the monitor. Occasionally, we'd get a girl screaming.
     "Mr. Williamson." When you're a smart-alec kid who wants to feel like an adult, it was pretty easy for us to try and push it and call him Vic.. At 11 years old. I'm 35, and officially an old fart now, so I can get away with calling him Vic. Neah-neah!
Inside the Galileo back in the day.
     The morning siren, that used to run a half hour before the Blondie music hit. Man, I hated that thing. It still haunts my nightmares and occasionally keeps me awake at night.
     My first time ever seeing the Voyager's decon hallway. 24 years ago, that was amazing technology (even though it was just lights) and was incredibly fun to show up to the Center in the old speckled gray shirts. ("Look, I'm glowing!")
     Pillows in the lost and found. "Should I sleep on this?"
     When Vic calls you "Admiral."  Or when Vic calls you by whatever rank you were in the Outland Corps. Or when Vic calls you something other than "You!" That's the day you know you've officially arrived in the Center hierarchy.
     The chamber at the back of the ISIS that used to house my shoes. Not afraid to admit that when I was younger, I had feet that could kill a steer from a state away. It became commonplace that, whether I slept in ISIS on the overnighters or not, my shoes were locked in there. I've since taken care of that little issue. My feet now smell like daisies. And sometimes cinnamon.
The mid level of the Odyssey looking back toward the bunks and
       Wallace And Grommit, and the animation festival VHS tapes on the huge TV. Being an 11 year old smart-alec, as we've already covered, I was pretty sure that I knew everything there was to know about the world. Every night, after the crew was put to bed, we'd bust out the ice cream and watch some unique media entertainment. This was my first exposure to fractal animation, clay animation, puppet-warp style animation, and Lawnmower Man-ish CGI. I credit this directly, and Vic exposing it to me, with my love of art today. Much like many other things at the Center, this changed my life.     Trying to forge Vic's signature. Come on, we all did it. Everybody wanted to see if they could do the neat little thing he'd do on the credit sheets. Not for anything nefarious, mind you, but just to say that we could in case one day Vic's hand broke and needed us to sign something for him. Again, we were 10 and 11. What do you want from us?
      ISIS ("Odyssey") at the back of the classroom. Trying to do much of anything with that ship was.. interesting. The packed quarters didn't make it easy.
     The Bat'Leth fights amongst the crew, and then having to face, as a combating Klingon, either the wild, mousey kid, or the monolithian brick they'd nominated as their champion. Also, the actual metal Bat'Leth that floated around the school, much to the dismay of the principal.
     Going from the gym to the Center via the "transporter." I get giddy just thinking about it. Roaming Voyager when nobody was on board, taking in all the sights and seeing all the love that had been put into the project.
     Bombardment. You know, I think I've still got permanent scarring on my face from where I've taken more than my fair share of hits. On at least two occasions, I took a full-on ball hit to the face from Roman Smart and Wendy Dillon. Both of them thought it was hilarious, and then the rest of the staff thought it was a riot when they found out that Wendy took me out. Never did live that one down during my entire tenure there. The staff would always try to get Roman or Wendy on the opposing team, and sic them on me. Caleb Lewis/Mock was pretty good too, but never took me out by smacking me in the face. I remember fondly that Vic used to sit in his plastic blue throne on the top of the gym steps, overseeing the games much like Shao Kahn in Mortal Kombat. I'd get nailed in the face, and rather than stand up in surprise, he'd smirk and ask me if I was dead. If I replied, he assumed I wasn't, and the games continued.
Here I am starting another overnight camp
     Vic once asked me why I was wearing Egyptian jewelry, because I lost it on the floor during a Shambattle game. 24 years later, I still don't have an answer to that question, although it has graduated from Egyptian to Celtic. I guess that's a good thing.     Mrs. Beers waddling into the Bombardment game when she was 80 months pregnant. "Don't bounce it off my belly and you'll live to see another school day!"
The Phoenix Crew getting their overnight camp briefing.
      Mr. Bagley getting involved in Bombardment, ever. When he'd show up for the after school games, the entire group would run backwards as one cohesive unit. Come to think of it, Bagley got me in the face at least once. I remember flying backwards, and it was the only time Vic actually laughed when I got injured during a game. He usually just smirked.     Ryan. Man, Ryan was everywhere. He was involved in every Bombardment game there ever was, which made him the undisputed King of the Bombardment Arena. It was not uncommon to see Roman, Michael, and Josh conspiring to try and take Ryan out right after the game started. There was at least one instance where he was hit with three balls, almost at exactly the same time, because everybody wanted to get the champion out of the game straight away. By contrast, I'd lost count of how many games Ryan won.     Crawling around in Mark's silver dome. There's no words to describe it; it simply has to be experienced.     The store, and buying my first Space Center shirt in it. I've still got that shirt, even though I don't fit in it. My wife does quite nicely though. Also, lots and lots of Corn Nuts. By the truckload. Photocopied. German. Money. 

     The Green Machine! When you're a young sprout, the idea of having to come up with some sort of costume/outfit is pretty out of the realm of possibility. Playing an Orion Pirate, I realized that I had to look like a scavenger -- so, for whatever reason, I grabbed my grandmother's green button-down shirt, and used it to clean off several dry erase boards. I then wore it, open, over a white tee, which .. Didn't really do much of anything except make Vic laugh. 24 years later, they still call me The Green Machine. Not a lot of people got a nickname coming out of there, but I'm proud to say mine still sticks a score later.
     Somehow getting elected to be the Captain on the back nine of an overnight mission. The details of this one escape me, but for whatever reason, I got nominated as the "go-to" guy to lead the Voyager crew the following morning and sitting in the Captain's chair. I was a very hands-on Captain, and didn't spend a lot of time sitting in the chair. I did, however, spend a lot of time telling Vic, in whatever character he was, where to stick it. I hung up on him more than once, to the point where he actually took over the comm system and forced me to listen to him. It was, shall we say, an unnecessarily hard mission, and we almost got blown into deep space a few times. I remember distinctly Vic saying that "no staff member was going to beat him at his own game." If he hadn't pulled a Kobayashi Maru and changed the rules, I would have. When it was all said and done, I was outside leaning on the bricks waiting for my ride, when a couple of kids came out and told me what an awesome Captain I was. Made my year. 
     The metal spiraling stairs on the Voyager deck. I have permanent scarring on my knee from jamming it into the stairs so many times, whether it's from slipping because of security chasing me, or slipping because I'm in too much of a hurry. Absolutely worth it. 

The Voyager Crew lined up in the Voyager hallway ready for boarding
 The stars laserdisc.     "Pause!"     "Front!" "Stars!" "Back!" "Next card!"     Tex. Oh, how I miss Tex. 24 years later, and I can still hear it: "Ya got Tex!"     The smell of the proverbial urine and fecal matter on the bridge when Vic would yell at the Captains from time to time. Being 10-11 years old and having some anonymous voice yell at you was a pretty good way to wet the chair or fudge your Huggies. We always watched the monitors to see who took it the hardest, and spent the rest of the mission torturing them. And laughing about it. When you say it out loud, it makes it sound like we were a bunch of sadistic kids.     "Environment first! Environment first!"     "Roull.. Are you out there, Roull?"     "Gas, Captain.. I've got gas."     All together now: "Target that explosion and fire!"     I loved the Klingon phasers, and the sounds of the bigger guns security used to use. Still do. 
The Voyager's Security Station

     Knowing that my sister will be going to one of the Space Camps for her class field trip this year, and that she'll be able to have at least a small portion of the experience I did. That thought brings the biggest grin you could possibly imagine to my face. Very Cheshire Cat. I'd love nothing more than to know when and where so I could be there, but if I don't, just knowing that she's going to be there is incredibly satisfying to me.
     Graduating 6th grade. The conditions of being able to work in the Space Center were that you kept your grades up, and as soon as they went down, you were out. I was spending all my time in the Center -- literally going from math class back to home room to drop off my books, back to the Center, to lunch, and then back for an afternoon mission. On Fridays, it'd be home for a few hours, and back to the Center to do an overnight, and sometimes a day mission right after that. I wouldn't make it home until 6pm on Saturday. I'd pass out and dream about Monday, when it'd all start anew. There was some concern because of how much time I spent in the Center vs how much time I spent in class, but not only did I graduate, but my name is still on the plaque at the school with the other honor society members who graduated that year. Ask Vic, he'll show you where it's at. He was very proud of me.
     Family. Looking back on my time at the Center, the one thing that comes to mind very strongly was the overwhelming sense of family we had. Vic was Dad, and Mark and Bill were the cool older brothers with all the neat toys. I don't remember half the people I went to high school with (come to think of it, I don't remember 90% of them), but I remember Robbie Duclos ("Dew-CLOSE, not Dew-CLAWS!"), Matt Bezzant (I ran into Matt during the rally at the Alpine School District offices, and he summed it up well: "Don't you feel like one of the oldest people here?"), Josh Webb, his brother Alex, Roman Smart, Wendy Dillon, Robyn Avenetti, Caleb Lewis (now "Mock"), Victor Williamson, Mark Daymont, Bill Schuler, and countless others who helped shape my life into what it is today. It feels like it was yesterday every time I think about it, and it makes me smile no matter what kind of mood I'm in. 

The Front of the Odyssey

     I know it's cliche, but my fondest memory about the Space Center is what it did for me to help me become who I am today. All of these experiences combined helped set me on a course to where I am right this very moment (which, unfortunately, is somewhat irresponsibly writing this communique from my office when I really should be working, but don't tell anyone -- it's something I learned from Vic!).
     A lot has changed in 28 years, whether it's the cast, crew, construction, or the way the Center's viewed. Voyager is now a thing of the past, and the Center's not quite the playground it used to be, but it's evolved into something better, and will continue to touch every life that comes through there. 
     I hope these memories have been as interesting to you as they are as cherished to me.  And, honestly, I hope Vic can explain some of these that need explaining. He may not have any idea.
The Green Machine
Jay Johnson

The Imaginarium

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