The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation offers something called ATX - Astronaut Training Experience. It's basically a day of space camp for adults. I took this "course" in 2007 and had a fantastic time. We were treated like VIPs and never had to wait in line (it was jammed because of March break) plus we got into areas where the normal tours do not go.
Me at the base of the launch pad. You
can’t get much closer than this!
The simulator was an old fixed-base design but was still
fascinating. There is no room in those things – you would not
believe how crammed in you are, and of course we were not wearing
bulky spacesuits. I was extremely fortunate in being allowed to
pilot the simulation – it is a group of 12 people, only 6 go in the
Shuttle and the others work in mission control. No way was I going
to do that! You basically follow a script for the simulation,
but they gave us two surprise events and we had to react. For
the first they failed the solid rocket boosters separation – we
heard the sound but did not get the light confirming their release.
I missed this until I had to blow off the external tank; when it
detached and its light came on I saw the SRB SEP light was off so
fired them manually – which turned out to be the right thing to do.
I didn’t know that, but I was in “push every button” mode as I knew
this was a rare opportunity.
Me in the Orbiter’s pilot seat. You
think I’m happy?
During the simulation the mission specialists get out and perform
real experiments. The guys flying have no time to concentrate on
that – you are too busy. There was some chemical thing they mixed
wrong and created a smoking mess. I must have got ahead of others
in the flight plan because I closed the Shuttle’s cargo bay doors
with both mission specialists still outside – effectively killing
them! I apologized and radioed that we had named a school after
From my position I could look behind and “outside” the Orbiter’s
rear windows to see the cargo doors open and close – this was quite
realistic. The images in front of me during launch were just sky
and clouds, but apparently they don’t see much looking straight up.
The images of the space station during flight were fair, like
computer graphics from 10 years ago. But the landing graphics were
superb. Coming down you can make out the state of Florida, then the
peninsula the Cape is on, then the giant VAB, Interstate 95, local
roads and finally the landing strip. We crashed into the
strip which is considered good - only 20% of the participants
manage to hit the runway – and no one lands the thing on their
first try. Even experienced pilots find the Shuttle unique, it is
said to handle like a flying house.
We also got to try the 1/6 gravity moon walk trainer, it is very
hard! You have to kind of hop and throw your hips to move at all,
if you try and walk normally you just bounce up and down. This was
Overall a great day and good value – highly recommended for any
space enthusiast. And if you have kids interested in this stuff it
would be a real treat for them.