Space Camp graduates biggest class to date
This year’s Deke Slayton Space Camp cadets received their diplomas during a graduation ceremony Friday evening at the Deke Slayton Memorial Space & Bicycle Museum in Sparta after five days of space and science related activities.
A total of 20 kids received a diploma, a signed photograph of retired NASA Astronaut Mark Lee and a very special pin in recognition of their successful completion of space camp.
When NASA astronauts complete training, they receive a silver pin and when they complete a mission in space, they receive a gold pin. At the Deke Slayton Space Camp, graduating cadets received a bronze pin in the hopes that someday they will go on to achieve the silver pin and/or gold pin.
Former Executive Director Alli Karrels spoke Friday night about how the space camp was started in 2016. Lee Olson, who passed away in October 2018, was a community member who got involved in the museum after bringing his grandchildren for a visit.
“He came so often that one day I finally asked him, ‘Lee, why don’t you just become a board member?’ After giving it a lot of thought, he said yes,” Karrels said. “We were very lucky to have Lee Olson as part of our museum community. He took that job very seriously; he was always looking for ways to make the museum better and be more involved.”
Karrels added Deke Slayton Space Camp was started from an idea brought to the board by Olson. Now in its fourth year, space camp has grown from eight cadets in the first year to 20 cadets this year.
“Lee’s passion for the program only grew over the years as he continued to find new presenters and help solicit funds for the program,” she said. “He would always say, ‘I will do anything for my kids.’ He thought of all the kids here as his space camp kids.”
Throughout the week, the cadets were given the opportunity to hear from experts at NASA and view presentations by science professionals at the top of their fields.
Camp also included hands-on STEM activities, working to build, create and solve various tasks through team building activities, which is important for astronauts. Each cadet got to be a team leader for a day to learn about being a mission commander.
The kids also visited the Sparta airport to learn about navigation, watched remote controlled aircraft in action, conducted zero gravity experiments at the Sparta pool and saw a program at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Planetarium.
They got to build robots in a robotics lab, build and launch a rocket and they tested zero gravity experiments at the Sparta pool.
During the ceremony, the kids and their families got to spend some time with Astronaut Mark Lee, who told them about his time with NASA and his four missions in space. The crowd got the opportunity to ask Lee questions regarding his career and his knowledge of space travel.