Little space cadet too well grounded

One year when I was in elementary school, I was chosen to go to a summer space camp. It was a special privilege, the sort of special privilege that I found terrifying. Surely there had been an astronomical mistake. I kept waiting for someone to correct it, but nobody ever did. And so the girl who considered gravity her best friend attended space camp.

EarthLooking back, all I can think is that those were desperate times. The Russians had launched Sputnik. John Glenn had orbited the earth three times in Friendship 7 and Americans were trying to win the race for space.

Space camp was for kids who teachers thought might have potential in the sciences. If my country was depending on me to help win the race for space, my country was doomed. It was a heavy burden for an 8-year-old to know she was about to bring down a super power.

On our first day at Space Camp we made helmets from empty Baskin-Robbins ice cream containers. We cut out holes for our faces and then painted them. I painted mine green, the color of grass, grass that grows on the ground and stays on the ground, the same place we should stay, too.

To this day, I have imagined the inside of every space shuttle, and NASA itself, smelling like mint chocolate chip ice cream and green tempera paint.

Our solar system at space camp was made of graduated balls plastered with strips of newsprint slathered in thick glue. The paper Mache planets simulated rotation courtesy of fishing line and coat hangers. Saturn’s rings were pipe cleaners and we included Pluto without a hint of debate or controversy.

The one not-terrifying thing about Space Camp was learning about the sky and the stars. We learned that the Big Dipper was connected to the Little Dipper, and the Great Bear was connected to the Little Bear, and the hip bone was connected to the neck bone. I may have been confused. In any case, we learned that you could see interesting things in the night sky, including the Moon and sometimes Mars.

Even now, when I try to point out Mars in the evening sky, others will insist that what I think is Mars is actually an incoming plane. They are just jealous that they did not go to space camp. OK, so maybe Mars is moving toward the airport.

The point is, if you aren’t stepping outside and looking up from time to time, you are missing some of the best this world has to offer. If you are in the country on a cloudless night, you can feel yourself dwarfed by countless jewels glittering in the sky.

If you’re on the late end of early morning, you may catch dawn as the horizon streaks with a twist of apricot and neon orange. I learned this much at space camp: You don’t need a Baskin-Robbins helmet to enjoy an amazing view.