The 2008 Update

By Phil Reeder

Welcome to my third in a series of yearly update articles about Space Camp.

Please remember that this article is intended to supplement the series of one-day articles and special article I wrote about my first Space Camp adventure in 2005, plus the two update articles I have written about my further Space Camp visits in 2006 and 2007.


A new Mission Operations Control Room or MOCR as it is commonly referred has been added to the floor of the MCC bringing the total number of MOCRs to three which are available for use by trainees at Space Camp (See Pictures).

New Shuttle Simulator

In the time since my last visit to Space Camp a new shuttle simulator, Endeavour, has been added to the floor of the MCC, bringing the total number of shuttle simulators available for use by trainees to five. The new simulator whist not full size, has a flight deck area for Commander and Pilot training, and has located directly behind this a half size mid-deck area for use by those on the Mission Specialist track. An airlock links the new simulator to the MCC's ISS modules allowing simulated docking to the station to take place and simulated ISS scenarios to be run from this new shuttle simulator. I understand that plans are in the works to add hydraulic rams to this simulator so that full freedom of movement is available which will actually move the simulator around as those on the Pilot Track at Space Camp practice flying the shuttle (See Pictures).

Tile Repair

Also added to the floor of the MCC, and attached to the side of one of the ISS modules is a new simulation which allows trainees to locate, inspect and perform repairs to damaged

space shuttle thermal protection tiles (See Pictures).

New Hydroponics Module

Linked indirectly to the new Endeavour space shuttle simulator is a new fully functioning Hydroponics Module allowing plant based experiments to take place as part of an ISS scenario (See Pictures).

Shuttle Flight Simulators

ISS (International Space Station) MOCR has had a slight face lift with the addition of not one but two Binary Star flight simulators for the space shuttle allowing trainees to practice flight and landing manoeuvres without the need to be in the cockpit of one of the five shuttle simulators on the floor of the MCC.


Since my last visit to camp the floor of the Underwater Astronaut Trainer or UAT as it is more commonly referred has undergone a miraculous transformation enabling it to be put to even greater use, and be even more challenging to everyone who uses this incredible training facility. As always Dana is on hand to lead the training and to remind everyone that safety ALWAYS comes first (See Pictures)

Dana, her daughter Emily, Mad Dog and all the other members on the UAT team get special thanks from me for all their hard work and efforts over the past year. For me the UAT is still the jewel in Space Camps crown and with the re-vamp it's even more so (See Pictures).

Manual Docking and MPLM Extraction

Another new addition to the training schedule for this year's 8-day group was an upgrade to the Binary Star space shuttle simulator programme. The upgrade allows trainees to use the robotic arm found in the cargo bay of the shuttle, using a combination of pre-programmed movements and manual control to extract a Multi-Purpose Logistics Module from the cargo-bay of the shuttle and position the module onto one of the docking ports of the International Space Station. This process is made easier by the fact that the new upgrade also includes the ability to use the multitude of cameras which can be found in the cargo bay of the shuttle, on the robotic arm at various positions and the cameras which are mounted on the outside of the ISS to direct the arms movements.

New Saturn Five Building

This year gave me my first opportunity to see the new Saturn 5 building, or as it is formally called "The Davidson Centre for Space Exploration", since its grand opening in January this year. I do not plan to go into any great detail on this subject during this article as the new building really deserves to be the subject of its own "Special" article which I hope will give the new building the full credit it truly deserves.

Oscar Holderer

During my visit to Space Camp this year I had the honour and privilege to meet one of the original German rocket scientists who came to the USA at the end of World War 2.

One of only seven remain scientists from the Von Braun era, Oscar Holderer was mainly responsible for designing the simulation and test equipment for America's spacecraft and astronauts which enabled NASA to put its satellites into Earth orbit, and its astronauts on the surface of the Moon.

I found Oscar Holderer to be a very meek and humble man who plays down the great role he had in making America a great space fairing nation. During his talk to us, which took the form of a guided tour around the various simulations areas which make up Space Camp, he described the work he done for NASA, and the work he had expanded on even further by either adapting or designing from new many of the physical simulators used by Space Camp trainees. It was odd to see this scientist of more than 80 years of age look at the equipment he had lovingly designed as he explained the process which had taken place to design it, and fascinating to hear him come up with, on the spot, a few new ideas on how the equipment could be made even better.

To honour the work done for Space Camp done by Oscar Holderer it had been decided, for the very first time, to name a camp trainee team after him. The group selected for this great honour was ours, and our team patch how proudly bears the name of this great scientist and engineer in its centre.

I truly hope to get the chance to meet, and once again talk to, this great man of science and engineering (See Pictures).

History Starts Here

First proposed in 2006, the trip to the Marshall Space Flight Research Centre had, for various reasons never taken place.

This year the trip was featured on the trainee's schedule, but to quote Irene "it all depends on what guard we get on the gate on the day". It was one of those situations where weird multiple scenarios were possible for us, and me in particular, and plans had been made to cover every contingency, as we could:-

  1. All get turned way at the gate, in which case other activities had been planned back at camp
  2. I, as the only British member of the group, get turned way at the gate, and for this scenario Irene's son had followed us in his pick-up truck and would bring me back to camp. Other activities had been planned for me if this happened to be the case
  3. All get through ok

Here's what happened. The Marshall Space Flight Centre is a huge complex, covering nearly 63 square miles. The complex, the original home of NASA, has in the past been dedicated to the development of spacecraft for America's Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle programmes. Since 2006 Marshall has now been the development hub for the spacecraft which will make up the next phase of American efforts in outer space -- the spacecraft of Project Constellation, with its Ares 1, 5, Orion, Altair and EVA Systems programmes. OK enough with the history lesson, here's the story.

As we approached the main gate I have to admit to having feelings of both hopeful excitement and dreaded nervousness. I counted at least six guards, all carrying guns. I have come to the conclusion that me and bullets just do not go together, and I remembered once again Irene's words from a few hours before, "just sit quietly and keep your mouth shut". I also remembered the words a friend of mine in the UK had once said about security guards who carry large calibre weapons "they have no sense of humour what so ever, so no jokes, just smile and don't act stupid". The bus stopped at the gate and the guard started inspecting our IDs. I had my passport with me and a series of letters I had prepared, and still had from the previous planned visit. The guard inspected my passport and I breathed a sigh of relief as she passed further down the bus. Then she came back and she asked to see it again, the game's up I thought, its off the coach for me and back to camp, but no, she passed it back, smiled, and got off the bus and we were on our way to see where NASA's history first started -- lucky me.

The history of the American space programme is a collective series of very impressive firsts. Perhaps not the first satellite in space, or the first man in space, but in the grand scheme of things the American firsts which followed far out shadowed the firsts which had gone before them.

So often forgotten is the place where these historic American firsts had their origins, but this is not so at the Marshall Space Flight Research Centre, where the site of the first test firing for both the Jupiter-C Booster, which would put America's first satellite Explorer One into space, and its larger big brother the Redstone Booster, which would be used to put America's first two astronauts into space (Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom) are forever preserved for all those who are fortunate to have the privilege to visit them.

As part of our week at Space Camp the trainees of the 8-Day, Advanced, Adult Space Academy Programme would have the honour and privilege of a visit to this historic site.

As sites go it does not look very impressive, a simple series of gray painted metal towers surrounded by a high fence with barbed wire which to the casual observer would not look like much to shout about. It's only when you know, as we did, the historical significance of this site that it takes on a whole new meaning. The history of the American space programme started here. Here the FIRST boosters were tested, which would launch the FIRST American satellite, and the FIRST American astronauts into space. Every history has to start somewhere, and for NASA its history started here (See Pictures).

All too soon the visit was over and we made of our way back to the bus for our journey back to camp. The next scheduled item was the picnic which is held at a local garden centre near Huntsville as a prelude to the start of planning for the Long Duration Mission which starts first thing on Friday morning. Fate once again played me its fortunate hand and enabled me to do something, I have to confess, I found far more interesting -- read-on.

I had brought with me from the UK a book I had owned for many years on the planned developments for the Saturn 5 rocket after the Apollo programme to show Ed Stewart and then Irene. Ed had his look at the book at the end of his Vision lecture, but Irene had borrowed the book from me at the end of hers and planned on returning it on the bus as we made our way to Marshall but had forgot it. I immediately saw the opportunity that this presented me with, the chance to visit the holy of holies at the US Space and Rocket Centre, the chance to visit the office of Irene Wilhite and view the treasures it must contain. Only an idiot would have passed up on the chance to visit the workplace of this great lady and have the opportunity to talk to her alone.

There was no guarantee I would even make it to her office, she could have asked me to wait outside whilst she want and got the book, but it as a risk I was willing to take. I followed her off the bus and into the building as the rest of the team drove away for their picnic.

The journey to her office led us through the great halls that make up the US Space and Rocket Centre, Irene stopped to talk to her boss and I was introduced as the crazy Englishman from across the ocean. We continued on and Irene look the time to show me some of the latest exhibits to be added to the collection, pieces from the Hubble Space Telescope and we finally reached the foot of the staircase which led to her office. "Do you want me to wait here" I asked, praying she would not say yes. No come on up she replied and I followed on.

The first thing that struck me as odd as I entered Irene's office, was the fact that it had the same organised chaos look to it, that my workroom has in my home back in the UK. To a casual observer, who does not know Irene, and is visiting her office for the first time, the impression you get is one of total chaos, confusion and disorganisation. It's only when you get to know the lady, as I felt I did, that you realise that what is chaos for some, is a filing system you could never hope in the million years to explain to anyone else.

I spent nearly an hour talking to the great lady and her son Jamie. I was shown some amazing sights and one sight in particular that very few others will ever get to see -- The fabled Von Braun papers. The great man's speeches and other correspondence from all his years in Huntsville were lovingly filed and stored to preserve them from the ravages of time. I got to see other treasures as well too numerous to mention. I was also taken by her son Jamie onto the patio area which is just outside her office, and which has an impressive view over the Rocket Park and the new Saturn 5 building.

I am not sure exactly what the retirement age is for women in the USA, over here in the UK its 60. Irene Wilhite is well over that age I understand (but does not look it), and could, I understand, have retired many years ago had she wanted. So the question is, why does she continue to do the job she does, when she could have finished work, and be enjoying a retirement. The answer for those who know her is very, very, very simple -- SHE CARES, and she cares a very great deal in my humble opinion about the great work that she does.

In a world which makes things, uses them and then discards them without a second thought, Irene Wilhite see space related items made, sees space related items used and then grabs hold of them enthusiastically with both hands to preserve them for the generations to come, so that they, like her, will hopefully come to appreciate what it took to make America the great space faring nation it was in the early days of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo (See Pictures).

Space camp -- The Future

The next few years are going to see some new and exciting changes to Space Camp as its training routine moves from space shuttle based operations to those based around the new NASA Orion and Altair programmes. I had the opportunity whilst at camp to talk to some of the training staff about the new changes, and to see a few of the conceptual drawings for the new training equipment the camp hopes to have in place to implement its new Orion and Altair based training programmes.

Both the designs and the discussions I had with staff lead me to believe that new and very exciting times await all those who are fortunate to have the opportunity to train at Space Camp once its new programmes come on line in what will hopefully be the not too distant future.


Normally that would be it for this article. I have after all covered all the changes which have taken place at Space camp in the last year, and covered the adventures I have been privileged to be a part of. Normally I would now send this to my team mates on the 8-day programme, and the folks at Space Camp for their comments before finally passing it on to my long suffering publisher for its publication.

But this year is going to be little different from the previous ones as I see the opportunity for the article to cover a little more ground than the previous ones have done and in doing so perhaps help a country which has become like a second home to me.

At the present time America, and by association the rest of the World, is in an economic slump. Whilst in America I had the opportunity to witness first hand the effects of this slump, via the sights that I witnessed and the people I had the opportunity to talk to, and to see the demoralising state this appears to be creating. Everything I have heard on the news, both here in the UK, and whilst in the US, leads me understand that the political people think the answer to the problem is to print more money and throw this at the problem.

Once before America found itself in the demoralised state it appears to be in today as Soviet Russia placed firstly Sputnik, and then Yuri Gagarin, in Earth orbit.

At that time a great man came forward, and gave the nation he was a part of, a great goal it could aim for, and is doing so revitalised a demoralised nation.

That man was John F Kennedy, and the goal he gave America, was to be the first nation on Earth to put a man on the Moon.

Perhaps what is needed, in this time of great financial upheaval, is another goal which Americans can aim for, and in doing so make Americans proud once again. A Goal which can give America the ability to earn back what it has lost, and in doing so make it once again the great space faring nation it once was in those early days.

In 1969 America went to the Moon and then stopped.

Perhaps newly elected President Barack Obama is the man who can take America back to the Moon and beyond. Perhaps via the Ares, Orion and Altair programmes, America can go back once again, to the place it has been before and the places it has never been before. Perhaps these are the goals America needs once again to aim for, to make it, and its people great once again, and in doing so revitalise what appears to be a demoralised nation.

Phil Reeder

November 2008