This One Time at Space Camp
Do you ever look up into the stars, at the infinite stretch of planets and constellations dwarfing our tiny blue planet, and think, “I wonder what it was like to go to Space Camp in the early aughts?” Luckily, one brave former Space Camp cadet has the answers. In 2001, Isabel Wanty braved the vast stretches of simulated space. Now, 16 years later, she’s ready to tell her tale.
When did you go to Space Camp?
I went to Space Camp in the 5th grade, for one week in February 2001. So I was 11. It was in Florida—Cape Canaveral. I went with my twin brother Cooper, and we each brought two friends. We made up almost the entire camp.
Do you think that was a nightmare for the kids who weren’t in your group?
They all came by themselves, and I recall almost nothing about them.
Why did you go to Space Camp?
That’s a good question. I’ve never been particularly interested in space. Don’t dislike it, but it’s never been my thing. I can’t remember any of my friends being particularly interested in space or astronauts.
Did your mom just say, hey you’re going to Space Camp?
I feel like maybe my brother and I brought it up, but it was mostly my mom and other moms spearheading the effort. My mom flew us down, but then she just had a vacation in Florida while we stayed at the camp.
So what was a typical day at Space Camp?
We woke up in our beds, which were bunk beds. The room was circular and it looked like you were on the inside of a spaceship—probably not at all, but you know, what we think space ships would look like. We rode a lot of what a kid would call a ride, but they probably called simulations.
Did you ever see the sun? I’m picturing just a big, dark room full of weird simulations.
That’s absolutely true! At one point, they made us do a fire drill, so we had to go outside. Other than that, lots of indoors time. And then the modules. There’d be some amount of learning, or touring the museum—things like that.
At night they would let us watch movies, but only like scientific movies. Movies about space.
So the missions were like roleplaying?
The missions read like a script, like you were in a play. We even did a roundtable practice of it, basically like actors would do. Then we had to run different missions. Sometimes we used the simulators a little bit, but there weren’t a lot of props. So it was a lot of shaking back and forth on the “spaceship,” using your imagination.
We also got to wear the space suits. Actual space helmets. That was cool.
What were the simulators like?
The simulators were hands-down the best part. On one, you got tethered to something like you were going to go out into space. I think there was one that made you feel like you’re defying gravity. There’s one you where your feet were dangling and you could like drive it forward and backwards and side-to-side like you were a little rover on the moon.
I also got really sick on the module you spin all around in. They tell you the trick to it is to hold your head tight against the backboard—and I didn’t have my head against the backboard for one single, solitary second. I got out and had a horrible headache, and then I threw up, and then I was fine.
Is that the only time you threw up?
That was the only time I threw up. My brother threw up on the plane ride down.
What were the instructors like?
Gosh, they were probably interested in becoming astronauts or something. I don’t know. This had to have been their full-time job. I remember liking them—good reviews—but I couldn’t remember their faces.
What was the food like at Space Camp?
One meal we just ate dehydrated space food. I would eat dehydrated ice cream every day. We also had macaroni and cheese. Dehydrated mac and cheese tastes like nothing, and it has the same texture as dehydrated ice cream.
What friends did you bring?
I brought my best friend from elementary school, Janna, and another very good friend. My brother brought his friend David—who I was dating at the time.
What! Wow! Really sitting on that fact! You guys were what, 11? Dating at Space Camp?
David was my first kiss ever.
Was it at Space Camp?!
God, I wish. From now on I want to go with that lie. It was that following summer, on Beaver Island, Michigan. Okay, I would like to take a step back and think about the fact that I was dating David at 11 years old from February--and still dating him that summer. That’s pretty long!
On our way back, Janna had to stay in the airport because our flight got canceled and her mom had booked her ticket with like frequent flyer miles, so we couldn’t transfer her onto this other flight.
So this little girl had to stay at the airport? That sounds traumatic.
I think she had to stay 4 or 5 hours. We didn’t have a choice—we had to leave her.
Is that what they taught you at Space Camp?
Sometimes you have to leave someone behind. Cut ‘em loose.
For the sake of the mission. Do you remember anything else—like did anything weird happen?
I guess the fact that we never went outside is a little weird for me. We slept in dorms connected to the main space, so we literally didn’t have to go outside. I remember it seemed like it was on its way downhill already—like we’d missed it at its best.
Okay, now I just have some questions about space that I think you can answer really well as an expert. Do you think Pluto should still be a planet?
It should be noted that Pluto was still a planet while I was at Space Camp. I do think it should still be a planet. I don’t know a single fact about space, but I feel strongly that Pluto should be a planet. It just seems insane that in our lifetime, something went from being a planet to not being a planet.
Do you think there’s extraterrestrial life?
I know people say all the time that we can’t be the only ones. I think we’re the only ones.
Wow. In all the universes? You think we’re the only intelligent life?
Yeah, I bet there’s like bacteria or something. It just takes such extreme conditions to sustain life.
Why is the moon sometimes out during the day?
That’s an excellent question. I think it has to do… with… where we are in latitude. That’s what I would say. Something about that.
Do you think the stars have souls?
No one can tell me different.
Did they talk about that at Space Camp?
They didn’t but they should have. They could have made it a little less scientific and a little more philosophical, in my opinion.
Having seen simulated space, was the moon landing real?
They never addressed the controversy, which, you know… for better or worse. I think we really went to the moon. It seems like a lot of hassle to fake it.
Is the moon real?
Do you feel like you have a really good understanding of what it would be like in space?
I remember being like, “Absolutely I am in space. Holy shit, I’m an astronaut.”