Camp Fosters Love For Space Program

Space camp began in 1982, the year after the shuttle first flew. The camp started out small but more than half a million students have graduated from the program. The U.S. Space and Rocket Center, which runs the camp, is building a new simulator to mirror NASA's goals to travel to the Moon, Mars and into deep space.

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Hundreds of children are paying especially close attention to the final mission of the shuttle Atlantis. They're kids at Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. NPR's Kathy Lohr reports.�

KATHY LOHR: It's sticky hot in Alabama, but the excitement and energy bubbles over at the rocket launch pad as dozens of children wait to find out whether tiny rockets they built will fly.

Unidentified Woman: Three, two, one.

LOHR: Some take off straight, others don't fare as well.

(Soundbite of whoosh)

(Soundbite of cheering)

Unidentified Woman: It tried, almost.

LOHR: That one caught fire and fell over. Later the kids will talk about what happened as part of their Space Camp adventure. Many say they want to be astronauts, including Zachary Kubas from Evans, Georgia, who's 12.�

Mr. ZACHARY KUBAS: I think it's really fun. I just love this place. I want to live here.

LOHR: When you see that the shuttle program is ending, what do you think about that?

Mr. KUBAS: I just got devastated. Like, I just got so mad. I don't know. I just still believe there's going to be another launch in space.�

LOHR: One of his teammates, Caldwell Lowell says he's disappointed too.�

Mr. CALDWELL LOWELL: It just really stinks that it's shut down, because, I mean, it gives people a chance to go beyond what they see everyday, beyond what people would say is normal, beyond into the unknown.�

Unidentified Man #1: T minus 10, nine, eight, seven, six...

LOHR: That's the shuttle Atlantis as it took off earlier this month. Now kids who watched the launch on TV are directing their own mock missions.�

Unidentified Man #2: And SRB ignition, liftoff. We have liftoff of space shuttle Enterprise and her crew on the way to the International Space Station and the shuttle has cleared the tower.

LOHR: Space camp began in 1982, the year after the shuttle first flew. The camp started out small, but more than half a million students have graduated from the program. And officials here say Space Camp is not going away.

Charity Stewart with the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, which runs the camp, says they're building a new simulator here to mirror NASA's goals to travel to the moon, Mars and into deep space.�

Ms. CHARITY STEWART (U.S. Space and Rocket Center): Our mission is still to inspire those trainees to go on and get involved in math and sciences and go on to be engineers and part of the way we're doing that is by giving them the opportunity to participate in our new mission that's going to take them to those places even though the shuttle is going away.

Unidentified Man #3: Six minutes into flight, velocity is 13,000 feet per second, altitude is 50 nautical miles

LOHR: Many students have returned to the camp more than once because of their intense interest in space. Most say the end of the shuttle program hasn't altered their goal of getting a career in the industry, even though they know for now the only way to get into space is in a Russian vehicle. Carrie Brooks is from Virginia and Sam Student lives in New Jersey.

Ms. CARRIE BROOKS: I kind of want to go to Mars. I want to be the first female on Mars pretty bad actually. You know, depending on whatever happens. But I just think that'd be really awesome.�

Mr. SAM STUDENT: My goals still haven't changed because while the shuttle program is ending they're also looking for private sectors to pick up a lot of the slack. I do want to work in the space program. That'd be a lot of fun.�

LOHR: Just last week, astronauts who flew on Endeavor stopped in to tell kids the end of the shuttle program does not mean the end of NASA. Still, Mike Fincke and Greg Johnson acknowledged the new vehicle the agency is developing will take time.�

Mr. MIKE FINCKE (Astronaut): By the time we get to having those rockets ready...

Mr. GREG JOHNSON (Astronaut): He'll be an old man. He'll be a really old man.

Mr. FINCKE: We'll be too old, so we'll need you guys to help. But you know what...

LOHR: That's all the encouragement kids at Space Camp seem to need.

Kathy Lohr, NPR News.�

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