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My $ 599 weekend in the room

The room is like any other destination: You pay either to go there or you are paid to go there. You are either a passenger or a pilot. But even if it is only 100 km away, no option is easy.

Being passengers requires a lot of money. This month, Nasa announced that it would allow "private astronaut missions" to the international space station for which it will charge $ 35,000 per month. Night; Coming in a capsule operated by Elon Musk's SpaceX, it will cost about 52 million. Even the briefings offered by Virgin Galactic – six minutes of weightlessness more than 50 miles above the ground ̵

1; will set you back around $ 250,000.

Pilots need less money, but they need dedication – and luck. Neil Armstrong, who took his "small step" 50 years ago next month, had more than one talent for a memorable sentence: he also had a bachelor's degree in aviation technology and thousands of flight experiences both as a test pilot and a Korean war combat sorties.

The admission requirements have not even been loosened since then, with Nasa's 2017 astronaut recruiting round selection 12 people for training from 18,000 applicants.

Pathfinder, a Nasa-based space simulator, is one of the star's exhibitions in the United States Space & Rocket Center © Stacy Kranitz

In short, you need the right things, some kind or another. It's a major obstacle to the average mid-life room enthusiast – a frustrating, even though, the room is buzzing at the moment. Wild talk from Musk that has spoken of moving to Mars is a given, but last month Amazon founder Jeff Bezos chimed in, detailing his vision of orbital colonies; Meanwhile, the Apollo 11th anniversary shows what you can achieve when you think of (and your military industrial complex) to it. Still, 100 km is still heavily reserved for the elite.

Fortunately, there is some kind of third option: You can pretend to go to the room. This is where the Adult Space Academy in Huntsville, Alabama comes in. For $ 599 plus airfare, the astronaut queue can live the dream on the ground. At the end of the 48 hour course, they completed a simulated space mission, got their Space Academy wings and made some new friends.

Space walk this way: Space Camp is an eye-catching presence at Space & Rocket Center © Stacy Kranitz

Adult Space Academy is based on the US Space & Rocket Center, the official visitor center for NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. It was at the Marshall that Saturn V, the rocket that took men to the moon, was developed in the 1960s, followed by the space shuttle in the 1970s and currently the Space Launch System, NASA's next-generation rocket.

The fact that a small southern town got this concert is down to a canon post-war senator who persuaded the US Army that Huntsville's Redstone Arsenal – facing World War II closure – was just the place to develop its missiles . Recognized a lucrative opportunity, the locals admired the influx of rocket scientists and began marketing their city as Rocket City. It had to be an easier sell than the world's water box capital.

A group of school children in Space Camp. More than 850,000 have reviewed the program © Stacy Kranitz

The supreme scientist was Wernher Von Braun, a controversial figure – his involvement in the slave work that built the V-2 missile is debated – but also an engineering genius and tireless proselytis for the space. He lobbied for the creation of the Space & Rocket Center, which opened in 1970; He also had the idea for Space Camp, the organization that runs ASA. "We encourage children to do cheerleading camp, music camp, football camp," he should have noted to the center's first director. "Why don't we have a camp to get children to do something we need?"

He was on the point: since Space Camp opened in 1982, more than 850,000 children have reviewed it, while the adult spin-off has had about 10,000 participants since 1990. Of Space Camp's candidates, eight have become current astronauts in space. Film producers have also found inspiration. Who hasn't seen Space Camp (1986) or Space Warriors (2013)?

Space & Rocket Center sits at Interstate 565 west of Huntsville city center. It is visible for miles around thanks to the full-size Saturn V replica in the center and is catnip for documentary artists drawn by Space Camp and by the museum's world-class collection. At its heart is a real, genuine, non-replicate Saturn V, which appears farthest in a tall rectangular building; You go under the five rocket engines that weave enormously over you, and then walk just under 400 feet to the nose. It is a cathedral of technological excellence – and as a cathedral it evokes a modern crunch: Can we do this now do you wonder?

Space Camp participants build heat shields for an egg out of bits of kitchen foil, cork sheet and sponge © Stacy Kranitz

Space Camp's answer would be a lively yes – as it should be. (Who needs a diffident space program?) It is a conspicuous presence at Space & Rocket Center thanks to its Habitat dormitory, a sci-fi-ish structure that resembles either an off-world colony or a school craft project assembled from kitchen towel inner and silver foil. This is a duality that runs through Space Camp: on the one hand, it is a showcase for a high-tech future; on the other, it is catering for wave after wave of schoolkids with school dinner smells and noise in the canteen and definitely functional dormitories.

This does not detract from my 30 or other adult space campers who had flown in from across the United States, from Michigan, California, Florida, and elsewhere. Ages ranged from twenties to sixties; the relationship between men to women was about two to one; Career – I learned as we chatted at meals – unlike technology and technology. Everybody seemed to be a true place believer: a good couple had invested in blue Nasa-branded kites that they had in the duration. "Who here dreamed they were in Space Camp?" Asked the instructor at the lecture theater where we gathered on Friday afternoon's orientation session; several hands went up. One man appeared, had been before as a child – twice.

An image of Space Camps Mission Center Complex where simulated missions take place © Stacy Kranitz

Orientation over use common sense; do not be stupid no spirits – and branded T-shirts donned, we were divided into two groups, Team Pioneer and Team Mariner, respectively named after a Jupiter and a Mars probe. Mariner was led by Laura, thirtysomething, ex-Canadian navy, and honestly recreating the chance to lead a group of self-chosen adult enthusiasts. "With you, I'm going to nerd," she exclaimed. "I'm going to nerd hard!"

We went for a key start: Mariner's first task was to build model rockets that involved sitting around tables in a small classroom and rubber fins and motor fittings on cardboard tubes. It was impossible not to think about primary school, not least because it was Elmer's school glue that we came across our fingers. (Alas, bad weather meant we never had the opportunity to start them.) Later in the weekend, we also built heating screens, out of flaps of kitchen foil, cork plates, kitchen sponge and the like, and we split into teams, our challenge to protect one eggs from a two minute burn with a propane torch. I was unreasonably happy to see my team effort, flimsily held with putty and strips of tinfoil, holding the egg fridge. (Budget-minded space agencies can reach me via FT.)

Neville Hawcock takes his own big leap on the simulated moon's surface

Other tasks were more dramatic. We all had a spin in the Multi-Axis Trainer, whose three concentric metal circles move in independent directions; You sit in a metal cage in the middle and an engine puts you tumbling forward, backwards and sideways. In First Man last year's Neil Armstrong biopic, rookie throws astronauts all together when they try it. Team Mariner had stronger stomachs – or perhaps the campsite's food was milder; Laura explained that the tumbling in a given direction was too short for any dissonance between your eyes and your ear canals to result in nausea.

Another confusion, consisting of elastic rope and a chair-cum-harness, simulated the moon's sixth gravity. Strapped in, you negotiated a gray, fiberglass slice of the lunar surface, Laura advised that sidesteps, sack-race jumps or exaggerated steps were the most effective ways to reach. I favored great leaps for humanity and, as with MAT, wanted longer.

Space Camp participants work together in the control room during a space mission © Stacy Kranitz

The core of the program was two simulated space missions: a space shuttle to the ISS and a Mars mission, both performed by replica spacecraft and mission controls. Being in mission control for a guaranteed glamor of space travel on the other.

For space mission, I was the mission control PayCom payload communicator, tasked with overseeing the astronauts aboard the ISS. I learned two great things. First, this space is a ruthless diarrhea with every moment of an astronaut's time explained. Flight commands, system controls, experiments: it's all a big task list. In addition to the console and keyboard on each mission controller's desk, there was a large folder with detailed schedule, plus another directory specifying the procedures to follow if something went wrong. "What is this life if we are full of care / We have no time to stand and stare?" Be careful how you respond to the one in your Nasa interview.

A space warrior is working to rectify a mechanical failure during a mission © Stacy Kranitz

The second thing I learned was that measured tones and acronyms go a long way in space, especially with an American accent. Team Mariner sounded on top of things through my bulky headset; commands and answers ping back and forth with laconic efficiency. Yet we still managed to leave two astronauts on a stroll and forgot to close the lorry doors before they drove back to the ground. A catastrophic mission – even though the open shipping transport that was transferred to mission control as computer generated imaging, looked pretty cool when it landed.

Meanwhile, the ISS employee had my help. "PayCom, we have an N2 and CW / Backup anomaly," they reported. "Roger it," I replied. "Stand by." Although I knew it was a bad thing to do with nitrogen, I was damned if I could find the procedure. I had to angle an instructor who discovered that I had got the wrong folder. Not my fault! But accidents to the astronauts. I calmly praised that there was a "folder content anomaly" and felt happy that it was only a simulation.

Space conquered, it was time for the Marshall tour that is part of the ASA package. The problem was that, as a non-US citizen, I was blocked. It was a disappointment, but also a relief. Laura had more than delivered on her promise to nerd, and my jet-layered brain had the pummeled feeling that comes from an overload of information.

I spent time exploring Huntsville and not regretting the decision: it seems to cover many bases. There is a leafy antebellum neighborhood, Twickenham whose distinguished mansions boast of soap opera backstories; there is modernist anger, such as. "Eggbeater Jesus", a large, trippy mural on a 1960's church; And there are also some appealing, hipster-friendly remedies. Rocket City is growing fast, as high-tech companies – including the Bezos Blue Origin rocket company – cluster in, and these engineers need their craft beer and craft coffee.

The Nasa links are profound. At Tangled String, a music workshop in an old textile factory, you can buy custom guitars built by a man who used to design rocket engines; At Campus 805, a brewhouse in a former high school, you can neck Monkeynaut IPA, called the sacred monkeys, as Nasa ceilinged in space in 1959. (The same place also has an escaping gallery and a tattoo room: all the ingredients of an unforgettable Even Tire World used gussies themselves with a miniature homemade moon module that dangles past a busy highway.

Mission fulfilled: Items for sale at the Space & Rocket Center gift shop © Stacy Kranitz

When I returned to Space Camp, it was time to go to Mars – specifically to a base at Phobos, one of the planet's two moons. The base was called Ouranos – a high-risk choice in a facility that was visited by school parties – and it was in the large, dimly lit hall that houses Space Camp's replica space and vehicles.

As one of two aircraft engineers, it was my job to test stone samples in Ouran's shining lab, while Mission Control hassled us to keep the plan; Then we mounted equipment under the LED stars outside, bolting components onto a solar array. The success column was awkward and the thick gloves felt clumsy. Despite having a cool pack over my shoulders, I sweat at the end and was happy to return to my day clothes. I was happier yet to retire to my bunk later. Even pretending space travel is hard work.

Neville Hawcock returns to the base after his Phobos EVA © Stacy Kranitz

The final day graduated. With school parties, family groups and Team Pioneer, my Mariner colleagues and I trooped in a large lecture theater where "The Star Spangled Banner" hit the PA. The ceremony master gave a brief speech to congratulate and reminded us that a Roman calendar, Christina Koch, was currently aboard the ISS – and also noted that only female participants have so far made it a circuit. "Don't worry, gentlemen," he added. "You can catch!" Then we went one at a time to the podium, where Laura shook our hands and gave us our certificates and our Space Academy wings reversed pin.

I suppose you should work hard not to educate – but to my surprise I felt proud. I also felt sorry to say goodbye to my Mariner comrades: we had a fairy tale. And if that adventure hadn't been involved in leaving the ground, it didn't matter: I would still get closer to the room.


Neville Hawcock was a guest at the tourist boards in Alabama and Huntsville; he flew with virgin from London to Huntsville via Atlanta. A three-day adult room academy costs from $ 599 per day. Person. Visitors to the USSRC may also stay at the adjacent Huntsville Marriott

Neville Hawcock is Acting Deputy Editor of FT Weekend Magazine

Follow @FTLifeArts on Twitter to find out if our latest stories first. Listen and subscribe to Everything else, FT culture podcast, at ft.com/everything- or on Apple Podcasts

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