Jenna Shulman knew exactly why she and the others were building paper rockets in a Dunwoody gym.
She’d been to Space Camp before, the one in Alabama, and they’d made and launched similar air-powered rockets there.
“We put air in them and they went up into the air,” said Jenna, who’s 11.
But launching rockets wasn’t the main thing she and her brother Seth planned to do during their week at the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta’s first Space Camp.
“We’re going to do a space mission,” Jenna said. “We’re building a Command Center.”
“And a Space Station,” added her brother, Seth, who’s 9.
“The International Space Station. The I.S.S.,” Jenna said. “We’re also building an orbiter.”
While NASA’s space shuttle embarked on its final mission this month, 60 or so children enrolled in the MJCCA’s Space Camp were building a shuttle of their own, along with a Mission Control Center and an earthbound space station. By the end of the week, they would take part in their own mission in space.
Their shuttle and space station would be made of cardboard, PVC pipe and aluminum foil and never leave the gym, of course. But campers would fill the shuttle and man Mission Control as they took the roles of astronauts, controllers and others involved in a space mission.
The traveling Space Camp, put on by employees from the permanent camp in Huntsville, Ala., was a first for the Dunwoody center. But the MJCCA is accustomed to summer camps. It will host about 90 of them this summer, said assistant executive director Jared Powers. It holds all sorts of camps, from sports camps to dance camp to drama camp to fashion camp to American Girl Doll camp.
But Space Camp had turned out to be especially popular – so popular, Powers said, that a second round was scheduled.
Powers’ 8-year-old son Jake was one of the campers. His assignment on the first day was to build a wing for the rocket. “It’s going to be a Canadian rocket,” he said. Why? “I don’t know. They just told us to draw a Canadian flag and write ‘Canada’ on it.”
Sara Biwer, an education specialist with the camp., said she had been pleased to discover during the morning session that some campers knew the real shuttle was flying while they were at Space Camp.
“It’s pretty special,” she said. “We get to tell the kids they’re experiencing a part of history right now, and they can see what they’re doing up there [in space].”
Biwer said she hopes space camp gives some campers a taste for space because she hopes to convince them that people should continue exploring space long after the last shuttle has been docked permanently in a museum.
“My job is to motivate this generation to continue manned space flight,” Biwer said.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen with NASA right now, but [we want] to engender that desire to go into space.”
For their parts, Jenna and Seth weren’t worried that the end of the shuttle program would mean the end of space exploration. They knew perfectly well the space station would continue its operations, and they figured NASA’s astronauts would get there one way or another.
“We’re going to start building an elevator to the moon,” Seth said.
“Not to the moon,” Jenna corrected. “To the ISS.”
Who knows? Then again, maybe astronauts will take Canadian rockets instead.