Learning to fly a spaceship while keeping an eye out for meteors

Greece has been participating in the International Space Camp program for 11 years, which means many Greek students have gained experience from NASA. Here are a few of their stories. Mission specialist Constantinos Nektarios Youryouliatos says he sometimes can’t believe he actually lived such a wonderful experience. Youryouliatos went on the NASA program in 2000 and today is a doctoral candidate in astrophysics at Cambridge University. «The greatest moment was [the simulated] six-hour space journey,» he told Kathimerini. «Our group, which was named after the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, was divided into three parts. Some went on the space bus, others went to the space station and still others worked at the operations center. I was the journey’s mission specialist. It was my duty to do some experiments at the space station and to walk outside of the spaceship, dressed in a spacesuit, so I could repair a satellite. The experience of no gravity in the simulator was sensational.» In the tank Students prepare for the big journey just as astronauts do. Eleni Kontou, who took part in the NASA program in 2003, remembers being submerged in a water tank. «It was a daunting test for all of us,» she admitted, talking about the water tank experience, which gave students a taste of the decreased gravity of space. Another test, she recalled, involved the great acceleration in the simulator at the moment of launching. Many of the young astronauts sometimes balked at how dizzy some of the space simulators left them. «When we entered a room which whirled so quickly so we could experience the kind of pressure that astronauts feel during launching, whoever had happily selected this field suddenly changed their minds,» laughed Manolis Papastergis, who represented Greece in 2001. The students also braved the life-or-death issues of space travel. «Apart from technical programs such as rain, meteors, difficulty in communication with the control center and fires, we also had health problems to deal with,» Papastergis said. «For example, the leader in our journey ‘died,’ and another person flipped out and stepped on all the switches.» Topsy-turvy ride Maria-Marina Ioanniti, who participated in the program in 2004, said she will always remember learning to fly the spacecraft. «I’ll never forget my first flights with the launch. I must be immortal, considering all those crashes. I was like: ‘Where did the landing strip go? Right? No, left.’ I got the hang of it and flew out the spaceship. The flight itself was fun. And then the landing came. ‘How should I center it?’ Once I landed it with a damaged front wheel, four times I landed it near the airport strip and another time I ran out of fuel. In the final journey, however, I was the commander and we were able to safely land through my directions.» Crisis teamwork Vassilis Sideriadis, who also went on the NASA trip in 2004, remembers the teamwork that ultimately led to the successful simulated landing of his group’s spaceship in Africa. «In the final journey, the space station was hit by small meteors and the control center was battered by a typhoon,» Sideriadis said. «We also had to face lots of psychological problems on board, which we got through because of a good climate of cooperation and teamwork, which is the first thing a team learns to achieve together during difficult times.»