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Adventure: Blast Off at Space Camp Canada

The Cosmodôme in Laval, Quebec, houses Canada’s first interactive museum devoted to Space Science as well as the country’s only Space Camp for kids nine to 14. You’ll know it by the Ariane IV rocket parked out front. Kids arrive from all over the continent each summer to do week-long training sessions as astronauts or space explorers. But families who wonder what it’s like to walk on the moon or repair equipment failure as they’re drifting in space can take advantage of the half-day to weekend programs held throughout the year.

The one- and two-day camps start with a workshop on subjects like rocket propulsion and the effects of outer space. Try to figure out Newton’s Laws on a skateboard with a rope connecting you to another rider or sample the kinds of food you would eat in space. Hint? Contrary to popular myth, it’s not all freeze dried. Dried nuts and fruit have resuscitated tired astronauts. Five different simulators similar to the ones used by NASA for training are on site positioned around a replica of the space shuttle Endeavour. Kids will giggle as they try to pick up “moon rocks” in the weightless-simulating Moon Chair or as their parents work at fight space sickness as they whirl around in the Multi Access Chair (simulating capsule re-entry into the atmosphere). Just watching can bring on that queasy stomach sensation! “Neil Armstrong had to perform an upside down manoevre during the Gemini 8 Mission,” explains guide André Fortin, who is in charge of documentation for Canada’s Space Resource Centre. “This shows how hard that manoevre was to do.”

The centre of the Space Camp facility is dominated by an impressive full-scale replica of the Endeavour Space Shuttle. Kids can climb up into it to suit up (there are specially sized suits and helmets) and then mount to the control cockpit where a video screen lets them experience a real launch. For a few brief seconds, just as in a real blast-off scenario, the video link is cut with Mission Control as the rocket boosters begin to roar. “For one split second, I actually wondered if we were really taking off,” said one mom who sat in the cockpit. “So I can imagine how the kids feel.” Parents man the control room as the kids work in their various roles as pilots or as scientists conducting a multi-million dollar sapce experiment.

Even if your offspring have no intention of ever blasting off into space or even sleeping in a bunk under a reflective space blanket, just learning about space science is valuable. “It seems that 90 percent of kids who come to Space Camp take more science courses or are at least more aware the role that science plays in their lives,” says Fortin. “After all, we can use space as a vehicle for teaching earth science, geography, physics, chemistry and other subjects.”

Canada is proud of its participation in the American Space Program. Ten Canadian astronauts ( two of them from Quebec) have been aboard shuttle missions. The Canadarm, used to successfully repair equipment failures in space, was developed in Ottawa so it follows that Canadian scientists are now building the new Mobile Servicing System robotic arm for the permanent space station. Canada was the third country have a telecommunications satellite in orbit—Alouette was lauched in 1962 to examine how the aurora borealis, the northern lights, affected the transmission of radio waves. Today, many high teachers conduct space science classes; some schools such as Marc Garneau High School in Toronto (named after the Quebec astronaut who has twice flown with shuttle mission ) offer specialised math and science programs for future space careers. So it is no surprise to also find a museum on site devoted to the history, applications and future of space exploration.

All ages will enjoy the Space Science Centre museum which features objects such as the space suit worn by Apollo astronaut James Irwin during an early 1971 flight. Dozens of interactive exhibits are to be explored in a semi-darkened space that’s brilliantly lit with fibre-optics and twinkling sky lights. A multimedia production in the theatre, Reach for the Stars, tries to replicate the thrill and evolution of space exploration—past, present and future— as the audience lifts and tilts on a three-storymoving platform. Then it’s on to the more than 60 displays divided into three categories: space and time; useful space applications and technology; and exploration.

This space museum is unique in that it concentrates on the Space Program from the point of view of countries other than the U.S. Visitors learn about the Russion Space Program, the advance of the European Ariane missiles and the search for knowlege of other peoples throughout history. Starting with early communication between people (Stonehenge and cave paintings), families move through exhibits on explorers such as Galileo and displays of rockets from all over the world to more recent applications of technology, It’s amazing to see the photos from a spy satellite showing Iraqi airplanes stationed in Kuwait during the Gulf War. Particularly impressive for young astronomers is the museum’s model alignment of planets in the Solar System. The huge glowing orb of Saturn is surrounded by clouds of misty dew that simulate its gases. Another popular attraction is the moon rock brought back from the Apollo 15 mission. And kids will certainly enjoy testing the accoustic satellites by sending their whispers to each other across a room.

Tips: Counsellors find that the best ages for space camp is between 10 and 12. The enthusiasm peaks! But be aware that the minimum height for certain simulators is 4 ft., 2 in. For avid future space explorers, real space suits can be purchased in the shop for about $600 along with related items such as a chunk of meteorite from Namibia for $285, certificate of authenticity included.

Getting There: The Cosmodome is along the Auroroute des Laurentides about 20 minutes north of Montreal in Laval, Quebec’s second largest city. Take Hwy 15 north to exit 9, the St. Martin exit. Turn right onto Daniel Johnson, then right at Edward MonPetit which turns into Terry Fox. Then follow the signs. You can also get there by Metro and bus from Montreal. Call the Cosmodome, 2150 Autoroute des Laurentides, Laval, Québec, H7T 2T8, 450/ 978-3515 or 1-800-565-CAMP; FAX 450/ 978-3624

What it costs: A five day space camp experience costs about $675 Canadian while a weekend camp costs $225 for adults and kids. Half-day programs are $15 for kids and $20 for adults; one-day programs lasting about 6 hours cost $28 for kids and $38 for adults.

Meals: Typical astronaut food like dried strawberries and dried ice cream cake are available in the Cosmodome’s Ariane cafeteria.





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