It was the morning of 47 years ago this past July 20, Cape Kennedy, Florida.  A mosaic of assorted Americans was spread out around the cars and the vans that had started parking there the previous afternoon.  They were watching in the near distance a tall rocket that looked as if it had landed there on the day that the earth had stood still. I was there also, when I was a 20-year-old federal government employee working for the US Office of Opportunity.  I had parked a van there as well that had brought about a half African-American young people to watch the first three people from earth being rocketed to the earth’s plaything, the moon.

The people of Florida were having a lot to get used to that year. Along with Virginians, Floridians were the only Southerners to decidedly vote for the winning Republican candidate in 1968, Richard Nixon.  And President Nixon had widely declared that he was a different person than was the “Old Nixon,” and now all the Florida newspapers and TV stations were watching him closely to find who and what the “New Nixon.” was

Another new phenomenon in 1969 was the new movement of Southern Republicans, which in my experience started in Florida.  The old Southern Democrat, for example, would commonly wear a white shirt and tie to office work.  To escape from that entire scene, the new Southern Republicans started wearing light-colored suits to their offices.  Another thing that started happening was that Florida Southern Republicans worked to get rid of their Southern accents and to begin talking more like Richard Nixon  How to accomplish that?   I noticed more than a few white businessmen suddenly talking to themselves in the streets of Orlando.  After a while I concluded they were actually practicing the Northern vowels that were so in vogue in Orlando at that time (In a later trip to Orlando in 1975 I could not find the one-time prominent Southern accent anywhere among the city population.)

But my most memorable day in Florida was that morning that the half dozen kids I brought from out African-American town of Eatonville.  We all watched the Apollo II being launched by rocket a so huge it seemed like the eighth wonder of the world, and so seemingly slowly off the earth’s surface that there seemed to be something funny with the law of gravity going around there.

The boys I brought with me to Cape Kennedy were around 10 to 15 years old. That means that now 47 years later these boys would be between 57 years old and 62, perhaps just starting social security.  Periodically I wonder about how much they remember of that day.  One thing I remember vividly is one of their mothers later in tears   vividly thanking me for making arrangements for her son to see the first men fly to the moon.

I knew that I didn’t have much more time with these young men I took to the space launching.  Three weeks later my assignment as a VISTA Volunteer – at that time a kind of Peace Corps volunteer who concentrated on community development in America – expired.  I was then taken back from Florida all the way back to my home on the West Coast.

Still, with what time you have with young people, you can do something to spark an interest in something very positive and very helpful that they may run with for the rest of their lives.

I still maintain a warm feeling for that day when I was able to introduce some very important young people to our space program.  If you would like to gather that warm feeling for what you could do for your young people, please consider America’s world recognized Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, a summer program that introduces America’s young students of the possibility of making a career in America’s space program technology.

Last year, on May 5, of 2015, I ran a column titled “Space Camp invites young SCV campers this summer.”  Unfortunately, the summer program was practically beginning when the article was aired.  But here is some pertinent information about the space camp from that article interviewing Space Camp spokesperson Pat Ammons if you would like to think about getting your young people ready for the Summer 2017 Space Camp.

Ms. Pat Ammons, in your experience and over the years, has the Space Camp been able to discover what the visiting students react to most enthusiastically while they are there?

I have heard a lot of answers to this question, and I do think it varies depending on the person. That said, I know taking part in the space shuttle or Orion missions is a big part of their experience. They remember what role they played in the mission, whether they’re one of the astronauts or a member of the mission control team, and how their role fit into the mission as a whole. The older the trainees (we call them Space Camp Trainees and their counselors are Space Camp Crew Trainers), the more complex the mission.

I also think just being part of the team and meeting students from all over the world makes a huge impression on the trainees.

Who has graduated from the Space Camp since 1982 who has eventually achieved some eminence in the profession and culture of aerospace?

More than 650,000 alumni from around the world have attended Space Camp and its affiliated programs (Aviation Challenge and Space Camp Robotics) since 1982. Among those are five astronauts: Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger, our first alum in space. She flew on STS-131; Samantha Christoforetti, currently aboard in the International Space Station; Dr. Kathleen “Kate” Rubins, who is scheduled to fly on ISS Expedition 48/49 in May 2016; Dr. Serena Aunon; and Christina Hammock. Aunon has not been scheduled to fly yet, and Hammock is a fairly new member of the NASA team.

We can’t even count the number of pilots, engineers, scientists, doctors and teachers who have come through our programs. I had a young man in today who just won a NASA contest to have a tool he designed 3-D printed aboard the ISS. Here’s a link to a story about him: http://www.al.com/news/huntsville/index.ssf/2015/03/5_questions_with_the_alabama_t.html

Here are some other significant names for you:

George Whitesides, president and CEO of Virgin Galactic . Here’s a link with an interview with him about his time here: http://www.bizjournals.com/albuquerque/print-edition/2013/01/25/yep-whitesides-went-to-space-camp.html?page=all

Lori Garver, former NASA Deputy Administrator, attended adult camp

Elon Musk,  CEO and CTO of SpaceX, attended a corporate camp along with Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, and Pierre Omidyar, founder and chairman of eBay.

Our Space Camp Hall of Fame includes a number of people who have gone on to do significant things in the aerospace industry. Here’s a link to the Hall of Fame page on our website, so you can  see just a sampling of people who have gone on to achieve great things in the field: http://www.spacecamp.com/halloffame

You will note that some of these Hall of Fame members are not Space Camp alumni. Some are people who have made great contributions to our programs, such as Hoot Gibson, a former astronaut, and Dan Oates, who founded SCIVIS, a camp for visually impaired students. 

How much notice is usually needed for families to plan a 5-day stay around the Space Camp in order for them to secure the necessary accommodations for their visit?

Space Camp is an all-inclusive sleepover camp, so all accommodations are taken care of when someone makes a reservation. The tuition fee for Space Camp includes room and board and all the materials a trainee needs for his or her stay. To ensure people get the best pick of when they want to come, we suggest they book early.  The latest we generally try to book a camp is two weeks out, so we can make sure we have all the necessary medical forms and paperwork filled out. For instance, if a child has any special dietary needs, we would need enough time to make sure any special foods are ordered, etc.

Chris Sharp— Commentary

Chris Sharp is an Educator and a prize-winning professional writer. He has recently published a new book titled How to Like a Human Being . His commentaries represent his own opinions and not necessarily the views of any organization he may be affiliated with or those of The SCV Beacon