Tag Archives: camp

A Smile As Big As the Moon

Last night I had the wonderful opportunity to watch the Houston Premiere of “A Smile As Big As the Moon” at Space Center Houston.  The movie will be shown January 29th, 2012 on ABC and is a Hallmark Hall of Fame feature. There will be a virtual tweetup on twitter during the Eastern/Central viewing time of the movie on January 29th.  You can follow along and join in the fun using the hashtag #smilemovie.  Also, Space Camp (@spacecampusa) will be tweeting differences between the book and the movie.

The movie is based on a true story (and book) about a special education teacher who takes the first group of special needs students to Space Camp.  Book Description (from Amazon):

“Mike Kersjes always believed that his students could do anything—even attend the prestigious Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, where some of America’s best and brightest high school students compete in a variety of activities similar to those experienced by NASA astronauts training for space shuttle missions. The challenge was convincing everyone else that the kids in his special education class, with disabilities including Tourette’s syndrome, Down’s syndrome, dyslexia, eating disorders, and a variety of emotional problems, would benefit from the experience and succeed. With remarkable persistence, Kersjes broke down one barrier after another, from his own principal’s office to the inner sanctum of NASA, until Space Camp finally opened its doors. After nine months of rigorous preparation, Kersjes’s class arrived at Space Camp, where they turned in a performance beyond everyone’s expectations.”

I wanted to share this movie with you because it gets to the core of inspiration, motivation, and dreams.  I’ve always been a believer that anyone can do anything if provided the opportunity.  While over the years I’ve become less of a believer in this statement, this movie brought a smile to my face and reminded me of my own space dreams and ambitions.  I was very lucky to have gotten the chance to attend Space Academy Level II when I was a sophomore in High School.  It was (at that time) 8 days of non-stop learning, teamwork, fun, and it all culminated in a 24 hour space mission involving the shuttle, a space station, and of course included EVAs.

For years I had wanted to attend Space Camp and my parents simply could not afford such an expensive venture.  I had never been to any camp whatsoever in fact.  Back in the days before we had this thing called the world wide web you used what still exists today – a library.  I used the library to get contact information for NASA and for Space Camp so I could learn all that I could about how to become an astronaut.  Somewhere along the way I learned that you could apply for a scholarship to Space Camp by writing an essay that was on one of their featured topics for the year.  I applied three times for a scholarship.  And on that third try I still remember being the one to get the mail as soon as it arrived and a thick envelope was addressed to me from Space Camp.  I do believe I screamed out various sentiments of joy that day.

After Thanksgiving in 1991, I went off to Space Camp and a dream came true.  What I did not realize before going was that the experience was more than just a week at camp or learning that I could do anything.  I walked away from Space Camp feeling for the first time in my life that I belonged.  And that meant the world to me.  I learned there were others like me passionate about space exploration with the desire to learn all they could.  Those who dreamed about being scientists, engineers, or even astronauts.  Those who wanted to make a difference in the world.  It wasn’t until I attended Purdue for my B.S. in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering that I again felt this sense of belonging.  After graduation I continued to belong when I moved to Houston to work at NASA Johnson Space Center and that belonging hasn’t left me ever since.  I returned to Space Camp in 1996 as a counselor.  It was my turn to give back.

That’s what Space Camp gave me.  A family.  I still keep in touch with friends I made during my space camp experiences including one of my counselors from 1991, friends from 1991, and fellow counselors from 1996.

I hope you’ll tune into the movie because it truly is inspiring.

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