COLUMBIA — Mac Bacon was helping to command the space center.
"Right now we’re waiting for the orbiter to dock, but they can’t dock until we fix all the problems in our docking bay unit,” Bacon said. “We need them to dock to bring down our injured astronaut who needs to go back down to Earth.”
The astronaut had suffered second- and third-degree burns after touching a live circuit without wearing rubber gloves.
“He got shocked and is in and out of consciousness,” said Amanda Steinmetz, space station commander.
Despite their convincing performance, Steinmetz and Bacon were just participating in a simulated space simulation, “Event Horizon,” produced by the Columbia Aeronautics and Space Association.
From Monday through Saturday, 150 Columbia students from the sixth- through 12th-grade participated in the association's 24th annual mission at Hickman High School.
Every year, a new and unique mission is written and produced by students. The objective of this year’s mission was to launch the NuStar satellite, which would map the galaxy and X-ray black holes.
“We’re sort of like a smaller version of NASA,” said Lauren Lockwood, a seventh grader who participated in the mission as a public affairs officer.
The space association is the largest student-run space simulation in the nation, and the members ensure a realistic mission by following NASA to a tee.
“When they changed from using shuttles to orbiters, we changed as well,” said Lockwood.
The facility at Hickman includes a mission control room, a production team, a public affairs office, a weather station, a star field, a space station, an orbiter that creates virtual flight, a robotic arm donated by NASA and a bio cube where injured astronauts receive medical attention. The facility also includes a ninja lair.
Ninjas are behind the scene problem-makers who challenge mission participants through simulated on board emergencies, both medical and computer-based. When simulated on board emergencies occur, the space station command center must work with the mission control room to correct the problems.
The program has expanded considerably throughout its 20-year history. In 1988, the association's first mission at Rock Bridge High School involved only 15 students who lived and worked on a mock lunar habitat.
In 1991 the program moved to an old high school auto shop on the Hickman campus, where the impressive International Space Station replica was built entirely by students.
This year, CASA is experimenting with both wind and solar power. The program was awarded a grant, which was used to purchase a wind turbine. They also installed a bank of solar panels on the roof.
New additions this year also included a teleprompter and smart boards.
Training for the mission begins in October and continues through late January. It is based off the curriculum of high school aerospace technology classes offered within the Columbia Public School District.
Students are instructed in aeronautics, aerostatics and aerospace. Professional medical personnel train them for the simulated medical emergencies, and ninjas are trained in movie makeup as well.
The production team runs all the cameras and controls what is broadcasted on the live feed. They fix all computer, microphone, camera and electrical problems, and they create most of the computer programs themselves.
The program draws students from diverse interest areas. However, many participants aspire toward careers in aerospace engineering or theater.
One association alumna, Ann Esbeck, now works at the Johnson Space Flight Center in Houston.