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How Space Camp Works

A Trip to Space Camp
Space Camp features simulators somewhat like this. 
Space Camp features simulators somewhat like this. 
Cotton Coulson/National Geographic/Getty Images

One thing Space Camp offers that you won't find elsewhere are simulators. In addition to mock space shuttles, Mission Control Centers and simulated trips to the International Space Station, there are physical simulators. The simulators include:

Five Degrees of Freedom (5DF) -- The 5DF is a space-walk simulator that was used for training during the Gemini program in the 1960s. It's a seat that floats a half-inch (1.27 cm) above the ground and spins freely on two axes -- front-to-back and side-to-side. The occupant uses controls to move the unit along a third, up-and-down axis, which creates a moonwalk sensation.

Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) -- The MMU simulates extra-shuttle ­missions in Earth orbit. It's the kind of robotic device an astronaut would use to do shuttle repairs in microgravity. A seat moves around freely on all axes with no friction, and the operator uses a joystick to try to control the unit's movements.

Microgravity -- The microgravity training chair is a simulator that prepared astronauts for moonwalks during the Apollo program. It hangs from springs that offset five-sixths of a person's weight, replicating the experience of moving in a microgravity environment.

Multi-axis -- This simulator consists of a seat attached to a spherical frame, and it spins freely and simultaneously on all three axes.

Space Shot -- The Space Shot is sort of like a mini roller coaster. It accelerates rapidly so the student experiences 4 G-forces (four times the force of gravity). This creates the sensation of escaping Earth's gravitational pull.

Zero-G Wall -- This simulator creates the experience of moving around in a zero-gravity environment. The student sits in a chair suspended from a swivel frame. The chair moves up and down with no effort at all as the occupant tries to move around and accomplish tasks.

Space Camp activities are pretty wide-ranging. Depending on the program and duration, a student might get to build a robot, design a space mission to Mars, train on a ropes course, meet an astronaut, launch a rocket and pick up some fighter pilot skills. It's a pretty unique experience, and according to the folks behind the program, it's more than fun and games; it's an investment in the future. The U.S. Space and Rocket Center estimates that more than 90 percent of graduates take more math and science classes than they did before attending Space Camp [source: Space Camp]. It's hard not to be inspired by a moonwalk.

For lots more information on Space Camp and related topics, study the links on the next page.

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