HUNTSVILLE, AL -- Over the summer, students can go away for sleepover camps, Scout camps, or sports camps. One Hasbrouck Heights middle schooler went a different route.
Luka Blanusa attended the Space Camp at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The week-long educational program promotes science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), while training students and with hands-on activities and missions based on teamwork, leadership and problem solving.
The year-round camp uses astronaut training techniques to engage trainees in real-world applications of STEM subjects. Students sleep in quarters designed to resemble the International Space Station and train in simulators like those used by NASA.
Luka, a seventh grader at Hasbrouck Heights Middle School, said his mother, Mary Blanusa, originally raised the idea. They looked at the different programs offered and “decided which one sounded like the most fun.”
“They (parents, Dragan and Mary) were happy that I found a camp that I was excited to go to,” said Luka. “And that would also help me in deciding what to study in school and what I might do for a career.”
Luka explained the living accommodations were “a bunk that was like a training barracks with about 50 boys that were from different teams.” All the boys stayed in Habitat Two. The girls were in Habitat One, “which looked like a space shuttle engine.” Luka’s team was Team Ganymede, consisting of 15 students, both girls and boys, all 12-years old.
After reverie, roll call and breakfast, the teams did interactive activities like building and testing heat shields.
“One day we did a simulation with the 1/6 Chair which simulates the gravity on the moon so we could walk like we were on the moon in a part of the camp that looked like a lunar base,” Blanusa stated.
Afternoon activities were “more complex simulations like flying the Endeavor Space Shuttle and also picking up people from the lunar base and bringing them back to earth.”
“We had to figure out how to fix anomalies from mission control and then explain to the people on the ship what was happening and what they needed to do to fix it,” he explained. “We had EVAs (Extravehicular Activities) where it was like we were on the outside of the space station and working on repairs.”
Retired U.S. Navy Pilot and NASA astronaut Michael Foreman was a guest speaker at the camp. An astronaut on two shuttle missions to the ISS, Foreman talked with the students “about his experience and training and answered our questions and gave us advice about becoming an astronaut,” said Blanusa .
During his free time, Blanusa went on the rides at the Visitors Center, Moonshot and G-Force, and toured the outdoor museum to look at the rockets. After dinner, there were team building activities and trivia night.
Throughout the week, all of the simulations and team activities were scored, unbeknownst to the students.
“We didn't know it was a competition,” said Blanusa. “At graduation, we found out that Team Ganymede won The Commander's Cup for the highest scores on all the simulations for the week. We were really happy, especially because we were one of the youngest teams in the Space Academy program.”
What was his favorite part of the week?
“I really liked the missions because we got to have fun while learning about what it is like to be an astronaut,” he said. “We had to work individually and as a team to fix anomalies and make sure everything was operating safely.”
He wants to return next year to participate in another camp.
“Next year I want to go to Aviation Challenge,” Luka said. “You do more simulations related to flying so that you can learn to be a pilot. A lot of astronauts are also pilots, so it is good experience to have.”
“I would like to go to the Air Force Academy and get a degree in aeronautics,” he continued “I would like to get a job NASA or Space X and either go to Mars or work on the lunar base.”
What would he tell other students interested in attending?
“Go, it's fun,” he said. “You meet other kids with similar interests and you learn about being an astronaut.”
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