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Home / Newsdesk / Media Coverage / California's Idyllwilde Astrocamp soars beyond shuttle
California's Idyllwilde Astrocamp soars beyond shuttle Print E-mail PDF Rocketry Planet Newsdesk RSS Feed
Media Article by JOHN ASBURY, The Press-Enterprise   
Sunday, July 31, 2011

ImageIDYLLWILD, California USA — A group of Idyllwild students have been given a mission: to save the world.

At Astrocamp in Idyllwild, they're told an asteroid is hurtling toward Earth and they must use the skills they've learned, in addition to some space-age tools, to stop it in a simulated space capsule.

It's this allure and excitement for space exploration that some Astrocamp instructors worry may fade along with the space shuttle program that was mothballed last week.

NASA had to end the shuttle program because it could not simultaneously financially sustain a rocket program that is aimed to succeed it, NASA spokeswoman Ann Marie Trotta said.

Without a means for space travel for now, U.S. astronauts will have to go through Russia to enter orbit. Several commercial space flight vehicles are being developed by private entrepreneurs

Still, Idyllwild instructors say, teaching the fundamental science programs can keep students intrigued and prepared for the next level of astronomy and the space program.

"It goes in phases, there's just not as much to look forward to," said Christina St. John, an astronomy instructor in Idyllwild. "If we have something to look forward to, it pushes that enthusiasm."

Astrocamp's curriculum doesn't focus on the shuttle program.

But it does offer some simulations that astronauts experience, such as microgravity activities in a T-shaped swimming pool.

Other activities include hiking, physics projects with water balloons and robotics, and a 70-foot zip-line. About 14,000 kids attend activities throughout the year. One week of the summer program, which just concluded, costs $950.

One of the final projects was the launching of experimental and self-built rockets near the Salton Sea.

Chris Milford teaches the class and is the Jet Propulsion Laboratory/NASA solar system ambassador for North Dakota.

"It aligns with that spirit of NASA in the initial days that showed we were innovative in the face of adversity," Milford said. "It leaves more work on our shoulders. The kids are worried their role in the space program is being eliminated. They ask, if we have the technology, why do we have to pay someone else?"

NASA stresses studies in the STEM curriculum — science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This generation of students should follow the program because they may soon be the astronauts landing on Mars or an asteroid outside the low-Earth orbit, Trotta said.

"Just because the shuttle's come to an end, it's not an end to human exploration," Trotta said. "American rockets to take humans to space only halted temporarily."

Copyright © 2011, The Press-Enterprise.

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