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Two Butler County teens visit space camp

It may have been their first time visiting the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, but for Vivian Gates of Greenville Middle School and Mary Virginia Meadows of Fort Dale Academy, it was no ordinary tourist stop.

The two Butler County girls were selected to attend the Space Academy for Leading Students in Alabama – SALSA – a program funded by the State of Alabama Legislature. The statewide program awards two students between the ages of 12 and 14 from every legislative district in the state a scholarship to attend a special session of Space Academy May 27 through June 1.

“I heard about this from a previous participant and she thought I’d enjoy it,” Meadows said. “So I contacted our legislator, Mr. Chris Sells, and applied for the scholarship.”

Vivian Gates was watching the Super Bowl when her mom, Cheryl, ran across information about SALSA on Facebook.

“Mom asked if I wanted to go to Space Camp – and I said, ‘Yes!’,” Gates explained. “I filled out the application right then and there. Later, we also contacted Mr. Sells about my nomination.”

In addition to sharing information about their academic achievements, school activities and interests, each of the girls had to write a short essay on why they wanted to be a part of Space Camp. These applicants obviously had the right stuff.

Meadows, the daughter of Janice and Howard Meadows, learned of her selection for the program by email during her school’s Spring Break, while Gates, the daughter of Cheryl and Dale Gates, recalls getting the good news during her sister’s softball game.

Although they did have to follow a dress code at the camp, packing for the program wasn’t too complicated, Gates said.

“It was like packing for an ordinary week away from home, and they provided us with our jumpsuits, T-shirts and all the food – and the food was delicious.”

As you might expect, each day at Space Camp was packed with activities, Meadows said.

“We’d start at 7 a.m. and, depending on the day, had various presentations, built and launched a rocket, trained for and went on missions, rode space-related rides in the park, went on simulators, visited museums and had themed team building nights with our group.”

Gates added that the evening activities included museum scavenger nights and trivia competitions.

“Every day I learned so much and I had a ton of fun – and I made so many new friends from Montgomery, Auburn, Birmingham and Mobile,” she said.

As for Meadows, she says meeting so many new people with whom she made fast friends and plans to stay in touch just might be her favorite part of the Space Camp experience.

“But there was a lot more to enjoy, too – going on the missions, riding the Space Shot and the G-Force and getting to do the Multi-Axis Trainer (MAT),” Meadows explained. “I really enjoy science, and I thought it would be interesting to see just what an actual astronaut goes through to train and go into space.”

Gates, who has been interested in robotics and aerospace engineering for several years, says her favorite part of the experience was getting to go on simulated space missions.

“Each person was given a role to be a part of mission control, the cockpit or the crew,” she said. “I was in mission control for the first mission and the pilot for my second one. Our team got to put on headsets and everything felt so real. It was so much fun to virtually orbit and land on the moon.”

Meadows, who will be entering the ninth grade at FDA in the fall, has aspirations to attend Auburn University to pursue a degree in biomedical science, followed by medical school at UAB, specializing in pediatric medicine.

Gates, who will be entering the eighth grade at GMS, is seeing stars in her future.

“After seeing an astronomy presentation at camp, I became really interested . . . I looked up at the sky that night and my crew trainer pointed out several planets and constellations,” she said. “When I got back to my room, I looked up astronomy and I’ve been looking at it ever since. So as of right now, I want to be an astronomer when I grow up.”

Both girls highly recommend the SALSA program.

“You get to meet so many new people with various backgrounds and some of the same hobbies you might not get to meet otherwise,” Meadows said. “And it also gives anyone interested in the space industry a realistic view of what it’s like to work in the space program.”

Gates would not only recommend Space Academy, she says she hopes to return to Huntsville for future camps, including robotics and aviation challenges.

“It’s really an amazing camp experience,” she concluded.

For more information about SALSA, visit https://www.spacecamp.com/salsa