My Experience as a Space Camp Counselor

Outside of the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center, Hutchinson, Kansas,

Last summer, I began working at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center (renamed Cosmosphere: International SciEd Center and Space Museum). It’s a space museum/planetarium/educational facility/theater/rentable space in Hutchinson, Kansas. In the summer, they host camps. These camps (formerly called Future Astronaut Training Program) inform children of all ages about the history of space travel, space itself, the things that NASA and SpaceX are planning on doing in the coming years, and about living in space. The Cosmosphere also hosts a space shuttle simulator called the Falcon, with working switches, keypads, and displays. It’s as close to the real thing as you can get on a state funded budget.


The camps that I primarily worked on are called Camps of Space (We can’t call them space camp. It’s copyrighted or something.) We have 5 levels of CoS. 101, 201, 301, 401, and 501. In 101, the kids learn about model rocketry and the history of the United States’ participation in space travel. We divide the kids up in to 8 5-man (or woman) teams. They later get a position specifically for the Falcon mission, and that position corresponds to other activities (rotations) that we have the other kids doing while one group is in the Falcon. The positions are as follows: Commander (CDR), Pilot (PLT), Payload Commander (PLC), Mission Specialist (MS), and Payload Specialist (PS). Each one has a different job to do on the mission. The 101 mission is a simple one: launch, make sure to jettison the Solid-Fuel Rocket Boosters and the External Fuel Tank at the correct time, plot and execute an engine burn (OMS) to achieve a stable orbit, release a communications satellite, execute a de-orbit burn, and land safely.

In 201, the camp focuses primarily on astronomy. The kids do an advanced star observation period 30 minutes outside of town. They get the opportunity to see the moon up close, some planets like Mars and Saturn, and then some deep sky objects like distant stars and nebulae. 201 also flies a Falcon mission. Going along with the theme of astronomy, the 201 crews execute 2 more to-orbit OMS burns to rendezvous with the Hubble Space Telescope. They service the telescope and update its software, then execute a de-orbit burn and again, land safely. This camp also completes a introductory SCUBA course. SCUBA at a space camp? Yes. In fact, astronauts train in a 202 ft x 102 ft x 40 ft pool called the Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL) at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.


Speaking of Johnson Space Center, 301 jumps on a bus after 2 days at the Cosmosphere and drives 14 hours straight through to make it to JSC. The campers get to listen to presentations by JSC employees who used to work at the Cosmosphere. We get a tour of Building 9, the astronaut simulation center. It’s basically a giant warehouse with a 1:1 scale of the International Space Station inside. It also houses NASA’s robotics projects like Robonaut and Valkyrie, as well as the Orion capsule trainer. (For those of you who don’t know, Orion is the capsule for the next generation of manned space travel. It will take us back to the Moon and on to Mars.) The next day, campers are treated to a tour of Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies, who assemble, disassemble, and repair the Extra-vehicular Mobility Units (space suits) for NASA. Backtracking, 301 does spend its first two days doing a mission. Each mission is a ISS rendezvous, but it’s so intricately complicated that it may as well be classified.

401 and 501 are the camps that I have not participated in. 401 flies to Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and 501 goes to Jet Propulsion Labs and Edwards Air Force Base in California.

This is not a camp advertisement. This is me trying to paint a picture of what we had, so I can tell you that it’s being destroyed.

Around the middle of last summer, we heard that the new Vice-President of Education at the Cosmosphere was planning to completely change up the camps. She wanted to tear down the Falcon and mission control and build a “Wernher von Braun Space Wheel.” Essentially, this is a device straight out of science fiction. First proposed as a concept for a Mars spacecraft by the father of the American rocket program, Wernher von Braun, this massive space station would rotate on its center axis to create one-third of Earth’s gravity. The project was never seriously considered because of the outrageous cost involved.

Now, the ridiculous idea of the space wheel was going to replace the tried and true space shuttle missions. Not for the life us could we understand why she wanted to change everything. It just didn’t make sense to us. It wasn’t practical, it wasn’t cost effective (The Cosmosphere has been struggling financially over the last few years.), and above all, it wasn’t real. There was no basis in fact for this new style of camp. We can’t delve into science fiction when other competing space camps look like this:

Huntsville Space Camp facility, PC:

Then this year came. To our relief, the Falcon was still there, sitting atop her hydraulic struts in all her wood-paneled beauty. Everything was the same. We worked our way through the eight weeks of camp almost peacefully. An incident would flare up every now and then. Around the end of the summer camp season, a delicate situation with one of they younger counselors was egregiously mishandled by the Vice President of Education. I won’t go into the specifics, but suffice it to say that most of the counselors dislike toward the VP transferred from professional to personal. We thought there would be a change.

There wasn’t.

Instead, our boss, the director of camp programs, whom we rallied around and celebrated, and whom backed us on the aforementioned situation, was fired on the grounds that the upper management “eliminated his position” because they’re taking the camp programs in a “new direction.”

I am of a firm belief that he was the only one holding things together. Without him there, it’s going to go downhill.

To Cosmosphere Management: If you’re reading this, don’t bother contacting me to tell me I’m not welcome back. I want nothing to do with this “new direction” you’re taking.


Zachary Headings



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