The Great Space Race. The Greatest Story Ever Written and Told at the Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center
It was a cold, wintery Sunday evening in the early 1990s. Dave Wall, Mark Daymont, Bill Schuler and I sat around Dave, Mark, and Bill's Salt Lake apartment chewing over a few story ideas for the Space Center's first true 5 day summer camp mission. This mission was to be the best. A mission to showcase what the Voyager was capable of doing. Slowing an idea began to take shape which became The Great Space Race.
Creating the mission was funner than going on the mission. I've never laughed so hard for so long since the night we imagineered that mission. It had everything: Paklids with Mark Daymont playing the Space Center's very first Paklid. That is where we coined the phrase: "We're Paklids, we're smart, we go fast." The mission had Romulans with the evil Scacorus as their commander, played by a member of Logan's Star Trek Club who wore all black and carried a leather whip. Steve Wall played a Cardassian commander. We had a Klingon, a Ferengi, and others. They are pictured above.
The actors wore full make up and costumes for every telling of the story. The campers were locked up inside the Voyager for five full days, only coming out for landing parties. They never knew the true time. I took their watches as they entered the ship. After a few days they didn't know whether it was morning, afternoon, or evening. The mission had full dinner theater with the campers eating in the Briefing Room with the characters in full character. The landing parties were fantastic.
Landing Party One: The crew travelled in time to Earth to meet Galileo (played by Mark Daymont in costume). They spent an hour or so with him drawing solar system concepts on parchment. They were with Galileo when he was arrested for heresy and testified against him in the church inquisition with led to his hour arrest.
Landing Party Two: The crew travelled in time to Nazi Germany to meet Wernher Von Braun. They worked in his V2 Rocket Assembly plant all set up in the gym.
Landon Party Three: The crew had to abandon the Voyager one late afternoon. We had minivans acting as escape pods, waiting for them outside the gym doors. The vans had darkened windows. We shuttled them to American Fork Canyon (a previously unexplored alien world). They huddled around a campfire where they encountered a band of medieval knights who sang and fought a sword battle or two for them. We had medieval reenactors from Salt Lake City help us with that.
Deck 21: Most evenings had a Deck 21 landing party into the darkened halls of the school. Deck 21 was the code word used by the staff to set up a scary situation in the hallways. The term stuck for years after that. "We're doing a Deck 21," we'd say to identify which type of landing party to set up.
There are so many things I've forgotten about this mission, after all it has been at least 25 years since the story was told. It was before the Odyssey was built.
If you flew or staffed The Great Space Race, please send your memories of the mission for an update post.
From the Archives: The Loss of the Space Shuttle ColumbiaThe Space Center Journal: A Post from the Space Center's First Blog, Space EdVentures
February 2, 2003
|The Crew of the Columbia|
Today we all mourn the loss of the orbiter Columbia. I want to thank those that called the Center yesterday to tell us of the disaster. The phone rang all morning long. You knew we were involved in an overnight camp and wouldn't be tuned into the news. Thank you all for wanting to get that news to us. Your thoughtfulness is appreciated.
I was informed of the tragedy at 9:55 A.M. as I was handing out Rank Advancement Papers to the 7th Graders from Lakeridge Junior High School. I was standing there calling out names while laying the forms out on the table when I noticed Lorraine and Josh had entered the gym. Not unusual for Josh but very unusual for Lorraine. What made it even "weirder" was they both walked right up and stood beside me. I guessed Lorraine had a question for me about something so I finished with the forms and turned to her. She was wearing her somber face so I knew something was wrong. I was bracing inside for news that some camper was hurt or something was broken or damaged in either the Galileo or
"The Columbia blew up over Texas as it was coming in for a landing at Cape Kennedy," she said quietly so the campers couldn't hear. I think she said some other things but they didn't register. My mind and eyes were searching for a smile on Lorraine's face. I knew it had to be a joke. Orbiter's don't blow up as they descend for landing. There is nothing to blow up. They are gliders! A second or two passed. I realized then it was true. Lorraine said something about the campers and should they be told.
I wanted to get to a TV to do what everyone does at a time like this - look for answers. Of course, I had a job to do and so did the staff. Details would have to wait. I turned and walked to the staff to begin calling out their names for votes. Just before I dismissed the students I thought it best to tell them and I did. It went quiet in the gym and the camp was over.
I want to thank the staff for their professionalism at the end of yesterday's camp. Instead of rushing off to watch live TV coverage - or huddling into groups talking, they went about the business of after camp cleaning and prepping for the following school week. Once the touring stopped I turned on the Briefing Room's TV. The staff came in, took seats at the tables, and watched as the pictures and information came in. Over and over the TV showed the orbiter disintegrating into glowing balls of white flame trailing white smoke. For the first time in my memory I didn't read the camp reviews. While the staff watched I tallied the votes. When finished I called out their names and announced the amount earned. The Odyssey's 11:30 A.M. mission arrived at 10:55 A.M. so Chris Call started it early.
I watched for several more minutes before deciding to lower our Space Center flag to half staff. I took the tool, went to the flagpole, and had a heck of a time opening the plate to get to the ropes. Several minutes later, with ropes in hand, I lowered the flag but couldn't find
a way to attach the rope so it would stay at half mast. I gave up and raised it back to full staff.I'll look at it more closely on Monday.
The Galileo's mission arrived at 11:10 A.M. Josh Babb was ready to go. I would have canceled our missions but how could I when people book them months in advance? We had a duty and our mission of space education needed to continue.
At noon several staff arrived at the Center for the Voyager Academy. The Academy started by watching President Bush's speech on the Columbia. The President did well, bringing back memories of President Regan's speech after the Challenger. I was moved by his quotes from the Bible and his voice telling the nation that the seven astronauts had returned home.
After the speech we watched an episode of "Hyperspace". I thought it best to show the program called, "To Boldly Go". The thirty minute program talks about the future of space travel and the wonders that wait for discovery - if we continue to do all we can to support the Space Program. The Academy finished on a discussion of new forms of propulsion and light speed and time relativity.
I went home for a few minutes after the Academy and found a message on my answering machine from Channel 2 TV. I returned the call and spoke to a news reporter. He wanted to come to the Center with a film crew to get our reaction to the tragedy. He told me he was aware of our fantastic program and what it does for kids in Utah. He continued by recognizing the Center was named after Christa McAuliffe from the Challenger disaster. He felt all of this was reason enough to rush a crew down from Salt Lake.
I went back to the school. We cleaned the Briefing Room. Luckily there were a few staff left from the 11:30 Missions. The crew arrived and set up. Just at the same time the 2:30 P.M. Odyssey flight arrived - A mom with eight loud, excited, bouncing off the wall boys who had
been waiting months for their mission. I gave Landon orders to keep them out of site. I knew the reporter was looking for a kids angle to the story and didn't thing 10 - 11 year old boys hoping to `blow up some bad guys' was what they were looking for. Landon took them into
the Situation Room and did a good, prolonged briefing.
I was interviewed first followed by Sam Brady, then Megan Warner, and finally Mr. Daymont. The Odyssey crew was ready for boarding during Megan's interview. I was in a bit of a pickle but necessity is the mother of invention. I had Landon load his crew through
the nose cone docking port of the Odyssey! (the hatch under the control room counter).
The day quieted down after that.
This has not been a good school year for many of us at the Center. We survived the first half still sane. I thought the second half was beginning to look promising but this tragedy has dampened those hopes. What keeps us going? Love of what we do and the friendship we have for each other. There may be other storms to weather before we put 2002-2003 behind us but the hatches are secure, the sails positioned, and the supplies tied down.
We turned the Challenger tragedy into something good through the creation of the Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center. I think we should create something to honor the seven
astronauts of the Columbia. Let's think about this together and propose ideas.
Have a Good Week Troops. Thank you for sharing your time and talents.