Father, son win Space Camp award 13 years apart
by Cheree Dye
Jul 10, 2014 | 1299 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Two medals hang side by side on the wall of 13-year-old Austin Baker. The first medal was presented to his father, Joe Baker, 13 years ago at the Space Academy for Educators in Huntsville, Ala. The second was given to Austin during his weeklong experience at Space Academy on June 13, which happened to be his 13th birthday. Both father and son received the Right Stuff Award for possessing outstanding qualities of leadership, enthusiasm and helpfulness.

“Space Camp is such a great experience for kids, especially when they are still young enough to still be open to new experiences,” said Joe Baker. “I am a physical science teacher at Cass Middle School, and every year I strongly encourage my students to attend.

“I went just after Austin was born to an educator’s version of Space Camp. I won the award and Austin has always said he wanted to win it, too. When he left for camp, I didn’t think much about it. I just told him to do his best and have fun, but when they called his name at graduation, it brought tears of joy to my eyes.”

The Right Stuff Award is the top honor of the program and only one camper out of nearly 80 receives it.

According to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center’s website, the five-night camp incorporates real-world applications of science, technology, engineering and math education. Trainees prepare to become the new generation of lunar explorers, with hands-on activities that place them in the role of spacecraft designers, mission controllers and astronauts.

Austin’s favorite part of Space Academy was the simulated moon walk, which takes place in a 1/6 gravity chair. It allows students to experience what it is like to move and work in a nearly zero-gravity environment.

Joe Baker was so inspired by his experience in the Space Academy for Educators, he applied for a chance to be an educator astronaut in 2003. He continued through the application process to the final round and was one of 197 finalists.

“I never would have had the confidence to apply as an astronaut if I had not completed Space Camp,” Baker said.

Some of the activities include a simulated space and Mars mission, history of space exploration, astronaut simulators, construction and launch of rockets, and simulations of experiments on the International Space Station.

“The U.S. Space & Rocket Center give away several different types of scholarships for students to attend. They have one for gifted students, one that is income-based and one for special needs students. One of my former students graduated from the camp with Austin. She applied for an Academic Gifted Scholarship and won it. It was significant because they only gave away two scholarships for that particular camp,” Baker said.