Last sleep in the US

Last night tonight. What an epic trip its been. Lots of photos and videos to sort out. I fly out tomorrow night at 18:00hrs.

Here’s a little of Seattle…

At the moment, wordpress (this blog) is not allowing images to be uploaded anymore. Therefore, I’m pretty much signing off from this blog. Hope you enjoyed it.

See you all back home.


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Seattle Day 1 – Boeing Factory

I’ll have to come back to the Smithsonian Air & Space at Dulles as it is worth more time than I gave it. However now I am in Seattle and my journey is almost finished.

Today was the Boeing Factory tour at Everett, Seattle, and luckily for me, I was on the VIP list. VIPs are much in demand and hard to find, in fact I was the only one…so…I had a tour by myself with the tour guide.

The Boeing Factory is big, nothing new there. It is the biggest building by volume in the world and is a mini-city; it has its own fire brigade and even cafes inside. Each of the hangar doors is the size of a football field. Apparently rain has fallen inside due to the warm air condensing near the ceiling and turning to cloud – someone once saw a rainbow inside!

All the parts that make up the different Boeing aircraft are made in different parts of the US or world. As an example, the moveable trailing edges and in-board flaps are made in Australia. Everything gets shipped to the factory at Everett and assembled there.

A 777’s engines are the largest in the world and their diameter is the same as the cross-sectional area of a 737.

Here’s the video:

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Washington DC – day 2, 3 & 4!

Getting behind in my blog. This is because there is so much to see. For now, here is a taste of some things that I experienced.

4th July in Washington

Arlington Cemetery and changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier

After the Smithsonian in downtown DC, I spent the next couple of days at the Smithsonian Air & Space here at Dulles. It is awesome. Spent 2 whole days there.

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Washington DC day 1

…so…I flew into Atlanta and got off my plane. Atlanta… what a crazy busy airport. It seemed every plane in the mainland US was converging on Atlanta. I was initially stunned but God was good to me and provided a little guardian angel who told me what train to catch to the required concourse. I found my gate which was promptly changed to a different gate, and caught my connecting flight a half hour later.

Landing at Washington Dulles, my bag was one of the first 10 off (it was first onto the baggage conveyor belt at Huntsville) and then I had to find my shuttle to the Hyatt. With no signs or indication what to do (it was about midnight at that stage), another little guardian angel was supplied who pointed me in the right direction. After another couple of queries, I found where my shuttle was to be. Half hour later it turned up and deposited me at this lovely motel. Time to bed, roughly 0200 hrs.

The alarm was set but forgot to arm it but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway because I forgot to advance the alarm clock 1 hour forward from Huntsville time. I therefore slept in till 10am and breakfast finished at 10:30. I made it though and smuggled a few buns and other things into my bag to have for lunch on the road.

Then it was back onto the shuttle to get to Dulles airport, and then onto bus 5A which took me close to the Washington Mall. On the way I saw the Pentagon! It was just off the highway and very big.

My first stop was the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. I found it easily enough but boy, were there some crowds. Too many to make it enjoyable but hey, it is the 3rd of July and there will probably be a lot of people in town. Here’s just a couple of pics as a teaser – I will be back there tomorrow to spend more time so more photos will come. Click on each pic to make it bigger.

Scott Crossfield’s X-15, Chuck Yeager’s ‘Glamorous Glennis’ Bell X-1, and Spaceship-1.


Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St Louis.


The Washington Memorial…


Lots of flags for the 4th July celebrations.


Looking back to the US Capitol – note the Chinese display (in red) in front of it. Mmmm, should we read anything into this?


The WWII memorial – Pacific


…and a nice quote (there are a few around this memorial)


This part of the WWII memorial displays 1 star for every 100 soldiers killed in that conflict. It is worth reading.


Meanwhile, a storm was brewing. I took this minutes before the rain came down…but luckily we missed the bulk of it.


Nice time to visit the Lincoln Memorial.


To prove I was there…


And finally, my favourite, this ghostly memorial to the soldiers who fought in the Korean War.


As I said, tomorrow, its back to the mall!

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Space Camp – post camp

Space Camp is over and I am now in Washington DC! How did I get here? Well, that’s a long story…

Everyone had left Space Camp and I was the last person; in fact I was the first to arrive in the beginning and the last to leave at the end. As Adolf Galland once said, “I am the first and the last”, the alpha and omega.

It felt very strange to be still there so on the Tuesday (local time), the other remaining person (Pete, also an Aussie) and I caught a bus that drove us around Huntsville. It was really hot and humid outside but nice in the bus. We chatted to anyone that sat near us and it was a good way to see the other side of Huntsville.

Pete flew out that evening but I still had another whole day before flying out. I tried to get a tour at the Redstone Arsenal and Marshall Space Flight Center but you have to be a US national and I’m certainly not one of those.

So I thought I’d mope around Space Camp however it proved to be really interesting. I was able to spend quite a few hours reading the plaques and taking photos. I have hundreds and hundreds of resources to share with the other Aerospace teachers and they are uploading to dropbox now as I type.

In the meantime, here are just a couple of quick photos as ‘stocking fillers’ before I get back into blogging Washington. I meant to put these photos up while I was travelling but, well, I was travelling. So here they are…

This is the Davidson Space Flight Centre from the outside. Inside if you look closely you can see the huge Saturn 5.

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This is the bottom of the Saturn 5. This is a nice display and there are quite a few plaques around the outside which are worth reading.

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Looking up at the big bad boy…I wish I had a wide angle lens.

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Now, on our very last day as a course, we were in the lunch line and I saw these little chocolate biscuit/cakes/whateverTheyAre/things, called “Moon Pie” and I thought to myself, “I’ve got to take some of those home to the kids”.

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So I said to what I thought were a couple of people around me, “can you get me a couple each?” What I didn’t know was they passed the word down the line and pretty soon, I was swimming in Moon Pies.

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Ironically, I can’t take them home as they are food!

I also tried a Hershey Bar. I wasn’t that impressed.

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Our chief instructor warned me that the United Airlines flight that I was booked on was always delayed. I didn’t believe him. When I got to the airport, it wasn’t delayed, it was cancelled! But…they put me on a Delta flight which went through Atlanta. More about that on my next blog entry.

Goodbye Huntsville. I had a great time and will fondly remember you and your wonderful Space Camp.

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Space Camp Day 5 – Monday (Final Day)

Well, we all graduated! That story can wait till the end of this post. Once again, click on the image to enlarge it.

The day started with breakfast and then off to the rocket range to fire our rockets. The range is named after Homer Hickam and is set on this picturesque piece of land surround by trees.


These trees eat rockets. If you look closely, you can see quite a number up this one tree…and there are plenty more trees around.


The multiple launch pad was loaded with about 10 rockets at a time and everyone ushered behind the safety barrier. then continuity was checked and the countdown begun.


Lift off!


Mine landed safely on the grass, in fact everyone’s did. The trees had to wait for another day. These rocket motors were C6-2 which means they had an impulse of 6 Newton-seconds (Impulse = Force x Time) and the recovery chute was ejected by a 2nd charge 2 seconds later after the rocket reached apogee.


With soggy feet from the wet grass, we did our own little re-entry back into the classroom. Various activities were attempted; all of them good. Two of them were worthy of some pics. The first one involved doing trying to determine a group of planets using various methods. Firstly, we used a terrestrial based telescope but because telescope time is money, the person looking through it could only view it for 10 seconds. They then had to come back and describe to the group what they saw. Oh, there’s more. Because of our atmosphere, a blue filter was placed across the end of the tube.


We then got together and the person viewing described what they saw. Initially, we thought it was a grouping of 7 planets of various sizes, colours and textures grouped in a certain pattern.

Next, the telescope was removed from the earth and placed in space, much like the Hubble was (and the James Webb Space Telescope which is under construction). Another 10 seconds to view (blue filter removed). Putting a telescope in orbit doesn’t give a distance advantage (meaning closer to the stars); it simply removes the problem of the earth’s atmosphere degrading the image.


Again the results were discussed and images drawn.


After this discussion, we realised there were more planets of differing colours.

Finally, we performed a fly-by of the planets of interest. A ‘leader’ led us past. Yes, we were closer than the previous telescopes, but the field of view is narrower and time over target shorter.


This was one fast fly-by!


Results were again discussed within each group. The instructor then allowed us to go up and view the planets. This is what they were…


Next activity was looking at lunar and solar eclipses. A 1 inch diameter wooden ball was placed with a bulldog clip on one end of a long metal ruler, and a 1/4 inch ball placed 30 inches away from it. This simulated the earth and moon and the distance between the two. We needed the sun to shine outside in order to make our eclipse but it decided to go behind a cloud so the lecturer used the data projector’s light.


But the sun did come out so we raced outside to simulate our eclipses. If the moon is between the sun and earth you get a solar eclipse. You can’t see it in the pic there is a small shadow of the moon falling on the earth. Because of the small size of the shadow, only a small number of people will see a solar eclipse.


However, if the earth is between the sun and moon, the shadow of the earth will cover one half of the moon. Everyone on that side of the earth will see the eclipse of the moon…this is a lunar eclipse and is seen by many.


That was classroom stuff finished. I really enjoyed it and learned a lot. We then had our final guest speaker – Ed Buckbee who founded Space Camp. Mr Buckbee was assigned to the Mercury Astronauts onwards as a media person and general minder, and co-authored a book with one of the original Mercury astronauts Wally Schirra which was called ‘Space Cowboys.

I took some photos of the slideshow hence the low quality.


This is a picture of some of the surviving Mercury 7 (I don’t know who is who and I don’t know the date). Ed Buckbee is on the right.


‘Destiny’ (our group) with Ed…


And then we graduated. It was quite formal with our zippers at the correct height on our chest, and our sleeves rolled up the proper amount, and we filed in and took our seats. Both Columbus and Destiny were called up on stage and the certificates presented. This is everyone together.


This is the end of my Space Camp Odyssey. From here I fly to Washington DC to visit the Smithsonian Air & Space as well as many other museums and libraries, and then from there on to Seattle to tour the Boeing factory. But for now, I’ll leave you with 2 things. The first is one of my space camp shirts that was given to us and the second is a link to a youtube video that a bus driver of all people sent to me. Her husband was an engineer on the Apollo program. Its a lovely video and worth watching. Thanks to all my family and friends, and thanks to the people who sent me over here…Boeing Defence Australia, Brisbane Airport Corporation, GE, and the Aerospace Gateway Schools. Thanks to Leata for organising the trip and thanks to my family for supporting my love of flight.


…and the video

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Space Camp Day 4 – Sunday

4 down 1 to go. Tomorrow we graduate. There is a graduation ceremony to attend and friends to farewell. But that’s not yet.

We trained and flew our lunar mission today but more about that later. The day started with the normal queue for a hearty breakfast with the 5000 space camp children…after all, it is summer vacation and this is a camp environment. There are all sorts of students here and I met some from another Brisbane school. It is always good to catch up with Australians overseas. I also get quite a kick out of chatting to the American kids. They know you are different but they just can’t place it. One kid was sent to the back of the line where I was and he was crying. We had a chat and I told him about home, about Australia and what it is like. As the line moved forward we talked of soccer and other things. When I saw him later he gave me a wave from his table. Kids are great, no matter where they are from.

Breakfast also featured a bit of a surprise. I had brought along 2 jars of Vegemite. I like to call it ‘Australia in a bottle’. I had told everyone the day before that they had to get any bread like food from the cafeteria so as to sample this delight from down-under. All of my colleagues did although all did not like it.


A couple though said it was great and they got to keep the 2 bottles. Another couple said that all they could taste was Vegemite for the rest of the day, especially during the rides which caused stomach contents to appear in unexpected places.


But I digress…

We started in the theatrette with a briefing on our moon mission then a lecture on International & Commercial Space. Not only are companies such as Virgin Galactic offering ‘rides’ into space, there are others who are planning ‘budget accommodation’ hotel style on the moon. Would you stay in budget accommodation in one of the most hostile environments that humans could ever face?

After that, we went on some of the rides that are open to the public. Space Camp after all is also a theme part of sorts and the public flock to it on the weekend. It gets very busy. We went on the moon shot which shoots you up with a whole heap of acceleration and you experience that sense of weightlessness for a split second that you love and hate at the same time.


Next was the gravitron or the Alabama equivalent. In this you get to experience high g forces – up around the 4 mark. After that we went back inside to an attack helicopter simulator which allowed a pilot and gunner to shoot up the enemy. The pilot sits up back and the gunner controls the 20mm canon and various missiles. My pilot hadn’t flown before but she did a really good job coming to terms with cyclic, collective and anti-torque. I settled for shooting my missiles at dangerous looking bits of grass and rock. The enemy were no-where to be seen, probably because they feared for their lives because of the wildly gyrating helicopter in the air above them.


Enough of the fun! It was then back into the classroom for an activity on ECLSS which stands for Environmental Control and Life Support System. We were given a bottle of ‘old’ water that had to be filtered and returned to a PH value of 7. Its initial PH was 3 so it was slightly acidic. It was also green and had glitter and cotton wool in it. To filter it we could choose from a range of materials such as sand, beans, pasta, charcoal, coffee filter paper, cheesecloth, ammonia chips, and gravel. You had to buy each of course using the standard ‘credits’. We didn’t do too bad but couldn’t raise the PH level enough but then no-one else could either. We got all the gunk out though and were able to have a sip of it without getting sick.


That’s charcoal in the foreground which we ground up to increase surface area. The charcoal itself filters quite well which added clarity to the water but by itself, doesn’t raise the PH level. We tried the ammonia chips and some even tried beans but that ‘ol PH wouldn’t budge.


Then we went into the simulators for a training run on our moon mission. Our mission was to launch a spacecraft from earth and land on the moon where a crew exchange would take place. On the moon, the new crew had to repair and reactivate an old moon base. Then we had to recover the old crew that had been up there for a while and bring them back to earth. Everyone is in different rooms or modules – depending on your role, you can see them on video monitors and everyone has headsets although there are 2 different channels to communicate on. It’s hilarious when you are talking on the wrong channel!


My role was OLE 1. I was in a mission control position on the moon and my job was to communicate to the mission specialists who were fixing up the old moon base. We handled problems and directed the mission specialists through maintenance operations. Those guys have my respect. They had the spacesuits on for their EVA (extra-vehicle activity) and even though they had ice-packs somewhere on the suits, they were still hot.

This is my console…


…and this is where we all sat looking at our monitors, live feeds of what the astronauts were doing, and also the checklist and procedure lists.


This was just the 2 hour training session, hence we didn’t have our flight suits on.

Other people were in different rooms or modules, some shaped like spacecraft or moon buildings. It was a stack of fun and you work as a team to get all the tasks done and there are plenty of those. Later that day when we did the real mission, we kept getting behind on the mission clock and due to the stuff-ups, there were plenty of laughs on the radio. Sometimes when we were so far behind, the crew trainers would jump the mission clock forward by about 10 minutes just to get us back on track. The trainers never got upset with us for our incompetence and were always encouraging. Latina…you rock!

These mission activities have been my favourite out of everything that we did.

And…the rain came down so our home-made rockets from the other day didn’t go up. I don’t know that we’ll get to fire them and I have heard that Australian customs don’t let them back in, even though they have no rocket motor in them. It was a good day and I look forward to our final one tomorrow.

Capcom out…

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Space Camp Day 3 – Saturday

3 days completed! The time goes so quick. Today was our longest by far. 0700 start and 20:30 finish. In that time we fitted a whole lot in…

First up was our shuttle mission where we had to start-up, launch, dock wih the ISS, open the cargo doors, push out our mission specialists who repaired something outside, perform a few experiments in space, undock, re-enter the earth’s atmosphere, and then land…or something like that.

I was the pilot who sits in the right hand seat. Our commander, Sarah, was in the left hand seat. Behind me were 2 mission specialists. In the ISS were 2 payload specialists who did the experiments – they made some kind of goo. On the ground was Mission Control and the people there were playing the role of Flight Director, Capcom, Inco, Prop, Cato, & Mission Scientist. I’ll tell you what these mean one day…

Oh, by the way, this isn’t real. We had 2 hours training for this. The real astronauts have 2 years.

As pilot, I had to plug a lot of information into the computer as well as go through the checklist and toggling switches. The Commander was doing this as well.


We memorised a fair bit but there were still panels that we had to search for.

The checklists kept coming and all the time the mission clock was counting down.


There were panels in front, panels to the right, panels to the left, and panels above…they were really hard to read.


Sarah, the Commander, was fantastic. This was her 2nd time to space camp. She was a good leader and her eyesight was fantastic. She could read panels on my side of the cabin!


Our orbiter was called ‘Discovery’. It was fun talking to Mission Control…’Capcon, this is Discovery, we are go on main engine auto sequence start’…nah, didn’t really say that.

But I did get to land it! The airstrip was Kennedy Space Center on runway 33. A normal aircraft comes in on a glide slope of 3 degrees or so. This comes in 7 times steeper…and it comes in hot!


After that, we headed to a different part of the complex which is called ‘Aviation Challenge’; here there is an aquatic facility where they have pseudo training for water type situations eg: if your aircraft ditches, or you have to parachute into water. This is a highly controlled environment but it was fun.

A view of the area where the activities took place…


The fuselage that 6 people sit in. What happens is that they lower it into the water then rotate it slightly so that the exit is under water. Its easy to get out of and at no time is the whole thing underwater so its quite safe.


The fuselage after lowering and just before rotating:


Out we come…we had to number off.


The instructors then allocated roles. I was ‘normal’ along with someone else. The other 4 students had injuries or conditions such as broken legs, arms and even amnesia after a head knock. It was fun but those helmets always hurt (especially with a hat on underneath) and the life vest rises up around your ears.


We then went on to the zip line parachute entry into the water. You do this backwards and it is really quite pleasant except the harness has to be done up really tight…and I mean really tight…ouch.


You step back…


…and enjoy the ride.




The Adventure Challenge area has all these old jet aircraft. My favourite was there. The Americans call it the Aardvark. We call it the Pig.


A Harrier


A T-38


An old Navy Corsair (not the WWII Corsair)


And no retired jet aircraft display is complete without an F-14 Tomcat.


From there we went to a different part of the complex where we had a go on the 1/6th gravity simulator (you are 5/6 lighter). We had to bunny hop, crab walk and run.


Then it was on to the MAT or multi axis trainer. What can be said about this…either you like it or hate it.


Strangely you don’t get sick so I liked it. You get spun in 3 directions, sometimes with violent direction changes.


The thing is spectacular to watch…I find gimbals fascinating, especially the condition called ‘gimbal lock’ which is what they struggled with on Apollo 13.


Finally, it was back into the classroom to do an activity on building a lunar base. Each team was given a facility to design and build. Our facility was a telescope. It had to be self-sustaining ie: generate its own electricity, have a medical facility, as well as other constraints and requirements. Teams then had to present a 2 minute talk. Again, it was not a chore and turned out to be a lot of fun.


And that’s one day’s worth of fun at Space Camp. Tomorrow is the Lunar Mission, some lectures on International and Commercial Space, and launching of our rockets.

I’ll end up with a close-up of my flight suit which I get to keep. Our name tags are worn upside-down and won’t be righted until graduation which is on Monday.


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Space Camp Day 2 – Friday

Day 2 started out with a team photo with our flight suits on by the official photographer. I haven’t seen the pics but a different group photo can be seen below. I haven’t mentioned it but our group of 27 Space Campers is divided up into 2 sub-groups…Columbus and Destiny. I am in Destiny.

After that, we headed to the classroom where we made our rockets. This was fairly straight forward and we got to spray paint them afterwards. We fire them up on the last day. I think they go through some ridiculous amount of these types of rockets each year, in the order of many, many thousands.

We were then driven to ‘Area 51’ for some problem solving and group bonding activities. We split up into sub-groups and were given 5 seconds to make up a group name. The guy beside me, Dan from California, said ‘Jelly’ so straight away I said ‘Bean’ so we became the Jelly Beans.

The first activity was a lot of fun as 2 leaders were selected, told the task, then they had to communicate to us what the task was without speaking. Then if we broke a ‘rule’, extra penalties were enforced such as no-one being allowed to speak…or worse.

The activity below involved getting the group from Maui to some other Hawaiian Island (not Oahu!) via a middle island on which only 2 people were allowed to be on and weren’t allowed to speak. Supplied were 2 planks that were too short to get between the islands. Everyone kept talking when on the middle island so as punishments, 2 of the ladies were tied together at the wrist, and after a second infringement, I was blindfolded…unfair! (Don’t forget that you can click on each image to make it bigger)


All the staff at Space Camp have ‘names’ (kind of like at muroc). The crew trainer in the pic above was named ‘Beast’. With a name like that, he was a prime candidate for a bit of sledging from the Aussie contingent.

There were other activities which really got us working as a group and taxed our problem solving skills. The final one was on a big see-saw style platform, or ‘teeter-totter’ as it is called in some places over here. You weren’t allowed to stand within about half a meter of the centre, and you had to balance it for 30 seconds or so. We thought we had it nailed but our transport turned up and we had to leave.


And then our transport turned up. Another kind of ‘beast’…


The school students are on summer vacation of here and they are at space camp in their hundreds; separated from us though. Some of them attend what is called the ‘Aviation Challenge’. They wear green flight suits and are subject to a military style environment. At the dinner table they stand to attention! I’ve had a chat to some of the kids and asked them if they knew where Australia was. Most had heard of it…

This is the eating area. The kids come in waves or else you wouldn’t be able to fit them in. Food is buffet style and is plentiful, I mean plentiful.


Here is Destiny and Columbus together. We have our red team t-shirts on. I can’t emphasise how hospitable and friendly these people are. One of my female colleagues, with true southern hospitality, calls me sir!


After area 51, we went into the classroom to do an experiment on ablative heat shields, the kind of protection that spacecraft need for re-entry. The task was to make a shield no thicker than 1/4 inch, that would protect an egg from the heat of a gas powered blow-torch.

This is what the experiment looks like…


Other restrictions were that the materials at our disposal cost a certain amount of credits each. The materials on offer were aluminium, cork, felt, steel mesh, steel wool, paper, spackfiller (called spackle over here) and sponge. The shield had to be quite thin as well due to the fact that it would push on the egg and knock it off its perch.

Here is our little group of blokes making our shield. We went for a layer of aluminium (5 credits), steel mesh (30) impregnated with spack filler (25). Then another piece of aluminium foil (5), then cork (10), then felt (10). Each layer had a very thin layer of spackfiller to make it bond.


The finished product. It worked quite well and the egg was safe.


After that, it was a talk by Homer Hickham of October Sky (Rocket Boys) fame. This man has done a lot and you can read more about him at We got a free Rocket Boys book and I think I will get the DVD…its a great yarn.

The obligatory photo with a living legend…


…and Destiny with Mr Hickham


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Space Camp Day 1 – Thursday

Space Camp officially started today. We caught the shuttle (bus) from our accommodation at the Uni of Alabama to Space Camp. It was straight into breakfast there and an orientation lecture. Then the orientation tour began…

Space Camp front gate…that’s Pathfinder on top of the external fuel tank.


My classmates


Closer up shows the size of the thing. The solid rocket boosters are on either side of the external fuel tank. The boosters drop away after just over 2 minutes and the tank drops away after all the fuel is used by the shuttle. The tank burns up on re-entry but the solid rocket boosters are recovered. The SBRs are ‘cast’ at the same time to ensure they are exactly the same.


A Saturn 5 F1 engine. It burns kerosene. There are 5 of them in total.


Rocket Park. A lot of the early American military missiles are here. I think a couple of chimps rode a military missile up. Wait a minute…so did Alan Shephard!


I found where the UAVs where…and other toys.


Dr Werner Von Braun’s office as it looked back then. I said hello to him but he ignored me.


The pool where you can do some zero gravity training…2 of us have our scuba tickets and we are allowed to have a go this coming Saturday.


Where we will do our simulator training. Note the little astronauts on the floor and one of them up on the Shuttle Remote Manipulator System (SRMS) also known as the ‘Canadarm’.


Space Camp has a full size authentic Saturn 5 rocket on it side and split up into its different stages. Its BIG.


2nd stage…


The Eagle has landed. Note the rover in front of it.


This is THE real Apollo 16 command module (CM).


…and the plaque to prove it.


Its tight in there…these guys are heroes.


The heatshield underneath. The round holes are where they took samples afterwards.


…and the damage done during re-entry.


A moon rock…


Signed by the man himself…it was his favourite rock.


Inside a training simulator.


And then I got to meet a real Astronaut. This is Robert Springer. He was a mission specialist on STS-29 in 1989 and STS-38 in 1990. Wow.


Tomorrow we meet another famous person. Here’s a hint. Go watch October Sky.

I’ll leave you with some words from Isaiah 40.


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