Edwardsburg sixth grader Collin Esarey, 11
Edwardsburg sixth grader Collin Esarey, 11

Archived Story

Space Camper a fan of politics

Published 11:02pm Thursday, August 25, 2011

Edwardsburg sixth grader Collin Esarey got more adventure than he bargained for at Space Camp this summer when the power went out for a day, including air conditioning, in Huntsville, Ala.
“We only had muffins in the morning because they didn’t have a refrigerator. Muffins don’t fill you up,” said the boy who made adults feel like maybe they weren’t smarter than a fifth grader.
He has earned straight A’s all through school and will be taking seventh grade math and English.
The Boy Scout was Mr. Pre-Teen Edwardsburg, plays soccer, basketball and baseball and is an altar server at church.
Collin, at 11 perhaps the youngest program presenter in Dowagiac Rotary Club history, is the son of Rotarian Phillip Esarey.
Space Camp, located at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, just south of Tennessee, has also been attended by club President Barbara Groner as a Cassopolis educator in 1991.
In fact, she donned her light blue flight suit which these days doubles as a reliable Halloween costume.
The week-long Space Camp program promotes the study of math, science and technology, coupling classroom instruction with hands-on activities and teaching teamwork, decision-making and leadership.
More than 500,000 students and adults since 1982 have attended Space Camp, which apparently will continue despite the end of shuttle missions.
Collin, a “hybrid” who combined Space Camp with his favorite part, Aviation Challenge, said of the latter, “You learn how to fly jets and the flight simulators.”
“My career objective is to go to Yale and join the Air Force. Then I’m probably going to be an engineer and run in politics. I’m a big fan of politics.”
Space Camp is for ages 9 to 11, with two other offerings for older students, Space Academy and Advanced Space Academy.
“NASA’s just grounded for right now,” Collin commented at Elks Lodge 889 on the future of Space Camp. “They’re making the Orion spacecraft, which is going to go back to the moon a couple of times and maybe to Mars. They made a little capsule that they’re still testing, which is going to be the new thing. They’re probably going to keep the shuttle missions for Space Camp for quite a while.”
Collin said campers sleep in bunk beds “and you don’t want to make any noise or the counselor will come in and get you in trouble. There are lockers in your room for your stuff. You probably want to put a lock on it so no one can get in. After you get your bags unpacked and your room ready, you go for a presentation on what you’re going to do so they can lay out the rules. At the end, you get your counselor for the group” of about a dozen campers. He estimated there were “20, maybe 30,” groups.
“Right after learning everybody’s names,” Collin continued, “you go to dinner. Their food is good sometimes, but I wasn’t a big fan.”
Collin said hybrids started the morning with their aviation counselor.
“The AC treats you kind of like the military. Before you sit down at lunch, breakfast, dinner, you have to say, ‘Yes, sir’ or ‘yes, ma’am,’ depending on the gender. Another cool part about Aviation Challenge is call signs,” or nicknames like in the movie “Top Gun.”
Collin’s was Faceplant. “I don’t get why,” he said. “I think it’s because I play soccer and I can kick the ball really hard across the whole field. I accidentally kicked this one person in the face and they fell down. But they got back up.”
“Really cool” flight simulators in Aviation Challenge start with taking off and landing.
“I got the hang of it and was able to be the first one to land out of my group,” Collin said. “We had a certain type of airplane that we used, the F-18 Hornet, which is easy to fly. Basically, you have a throttle, the wheel brake and the air brake. Your joystick here they call the hockey stick helps you change your radar from air to air to air to ground or navigation. You have the trigger for the guns here. They tell us at first that when we get our guns, you only want to tap it because 10 bullets will come out and you don’t want to waste them. The second day they set up dogfights, so you can switch to air-to-air radar and shoot other planes down. When you shoot the other planes down, they teach you to use rear aspect. What that means is you go up behind and shoot the engines out. When you’re flying head-on with them, you’ll fly into all the debris and probably take your plane down.”
Next, Collin learned survival techniques.
“We had to do fire building,” he said. “My group decided to build a log cabin. It fell over the first time because it wasn’t designed very well. Then we finally got it together. Another cool thing was shelter-building. They give you one parachute. The first time we had like a tent, but that fell over, so we tied it up and staked it down with rocks, then put this huge stick in the middle to hold it and staked that into the ground. Basically, when the air went through it, it puffed up and got really huge. We could hold our whole group in it.”
“Another cool thing about Aviation Challenge,” Collin said, “is they have actual airplanes and helicopters there. They have a Cobra helicopter, an F-14 Tomcat, an F-16 fighting Falcon and a Phantom. The helo-dunker is a simulator like a helicopter. It drops you into the water and turns to the side as if it was a helicopter and you’ve got to try to get out while the water’s spilling in. They make sure they give you enough air space that you have enough time to get out. The helo-lifter is like a net you swim up to and sit in and they’d pull us up. Kind of like what they used to get them out of the capsules and up to the helicopters in the space program.”
At the conclusion of Aviation Challenge, Collin said King of the Hill, or Top Gun dogfights, is a competition. “I beat everybody” to win a patch for his flight suit.
His team also created a winning mission patch.
“Something cool at the end of Space Camp is they give you wings that look real,” Collin said. “In your down time at Space Camp, which there isn’t much of, they show you around Pathfinder, the rocket yard and the Saturn V. Pathfinder is an actual real space shuttle on a big pad. It was the first space shuttle ever made, but was too heavy to fly. In the rocket yard they have a Jupiter (ballistic missile) that launched our first Explorer satellite, the Mercury Redstone, the Mercury Atlas, the rocket that launched monkeys into space and a couple others. A Saturn launched Apollo 7 and 8. In the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, which is the Davidson Center, they didn’t do Apollo 18 because it was too much money. When they got done with Apollo, they launched the last Saturn V, which had Skylab in it. There were three Saturn Vs left and one hangs in the Davidson Center. It’s really cool and huge. It takes a couple of football fields to walk across underneath it. It hangs where it would come apart, so you can look inside it. The tiny top is where people sat. The huge things in the back are just giant fuel tanks to power rocket engines, so that was a neat thing.”
The Saturn family of rocket boosters was adopted as the launch vehicle for the Apollo moon program. The two most important were the Saturn IB and the Saturn V.
Moving on to Space Camp simulators, Collin described the Five Freedoms of Liberty Chair demonstrating yaw, pitch up and down, roll and back and forth motion.
A gravity chair simulates moon weightlessness; MAT (Multi-Access Trainer) “is a bunch of rings that they strap you into to show you what it’s like in a tumble spin, moving all around”; and MMU, like jet packs astronauts rely on in space.
“Two joysticks help move you around,” Collin said. “That was really neat.”
Collin’s space shuttle mission involved repair.
“I was in mission control. I was the propulsion officer. They say I’m in charge of everything that goes boom. It was a fun job because you have a TV so basically you can see everything that’s happening so we could make fun of what others were doing. There’s a fake cartoon shuttle that blasts off. Basically, no mission specialists who do the repair actually made it back into the shuttle. We were already landing when they came back in, so we basically left them in space. For some reason, I don’t know how, we were the only ones who opened the payload bay doors. But we never shut them. We had a really bad mission. That’s probably why we didn’t win. Of course, there’s learning in there, so there’s a bunch of facts about NASA and the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab and the space shuttle.”
“One story I like to tell people,” Collin said, “is kind of funny at the beginning and then sad at the end. It’s about (Virgil) Gus Grissom, the second man to go into space after Alan Shepard. They made this new door for his capsule so he could press this button and it would fall off so he could get out quickly. When he was coming back down, the door flew off when he didn’t touch anything. The capsule fell in the water and started to sink. The ships coming to pick him up went right past him trying to save the capsule. NASA blamed him for years and was still blaming him by the time he made it onto Gemini 3. John Young went out and bought corned beef and bread because he didn’t like space food.”
When Young couldn’t pop open the capsule door, Grissom refused, sat back and ate a sandwich. “The waves were bouncing and he ended up puking all over the capsule,” Collin said. “The sad part is that Gus Grissom died in the Apollo 1 fire.”
Grissom, first of the Mercury Seven to die, was killed along with Ed White and Roger Chaffee on Jan. 27, 1967, in a fire during a pre-launch test at Cape Kennedy, Fla. Earlier, the Hoosier nearly drowned when water filled his spacesuit.
His spacecraft with the blown hatch was not recovered until 1999.
“Also at Space Camp they have one of the fastest planes in the world sitting on display, the A-12 Blackbird. Usually, they have lead paint that will absorb radar, but it wears off in the rain, so they just painted it black. It’s amazing to look at with that tiny part in the front where the person sits and the rest is fuel — kind of like the Saturn V.”
Another “story I thought would be neat to share” concerns Able and Baker, the two monkeys shot into space.
“It was a successful flight,” Collin said, “but they overdosed Able with the drugs they used to put the monkeys to sleep and Able ended up dying. But Baker lived at Space Camp in the Davidson Center and ran around. People would ask Miss Baker for her autograph and she would dip her (paw) in a bottle of ink and stamp it on paper. Baker died of old age after 27 years, which is very long for a monkey. They buried her and gave her a memorial outside the center. They buried her mate, Big George, who only lived for 16 years, next to her.”
The monkeys were shot 360 miles up into space on May 28, 1959, to experience nine minutes of weightlessness.
Baker was a squirrel monkey and Able was a larger rhesus monkey from Kansas.
Since their safe return occurred two years before any humans ventured into space, it made them huge celebrities who graced the cover of Life magazine.
Even in retirement in Huntsville, school children wrote Miss Baker 100 to 150 letters a day.
According to National Public Radio, visitors leave bananas on her grave instead of flowers.
More than 300 people attended her funeral when kidney failure killed her in 1984.
“I was lucky enough to be the pilot on our mission,” related Groner, who presented Collin with a pin making him an honorary Rotarian as well as the pen provided to speakers.
“The commander and the pilot are the ones who get the window seats. Mission specialists sit on this wooden bench, three in a row, no windows, no nothing. This is after they sit on the launch pad hours and hours, waiting to go through all the checklists. He mentioned someone had a corned beef sandwich and then threw up re-entering. A lot of that kind of stuff, people losing their lunch, goes on in space missions that they don’t tell us about. For those of you who like to travel, the next flights are going to be for passengers and for businesses to do experiments up there. They’re already planning them. Several astronauts are employed now by private industry.”

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