Steering and landing a simulated space shuttle mission is not something most people would experience in a lifetime. But that’s exactly what Sydney teens Ruby Waterlow-Heuston and Seth Leggatt got to do recently when they attended NASA Space Camp in the United States—tailored specifically for teenagers who are blind or have low vision.
Ruby and Seth, accompanied by their NextSense School Support teachers Pranitha and Elizabeth, really put their independence skills to the test, pushing themselves physically and mentally. They overcame nerves to successfully complete the course, which included activities such as being harnessed into a space suit and launched into ‘space’.
Space Camp was really cool, we got to do so many things like using simulators that replicated experiences of being in low gravity situations or being launched up in a rocket ship... We also put our minds to work, solving complex problems by using interfaces and control panels on real life models of spaceships.
Ruby says she really dug deep and gave everything a go, no matter how challenging.
It's good to realise that I can do it on my own. Space Camp showed me how independent I can be as a blind person and that I should always try to achieve the most I can.
Teamwork and leadership
The accessible Space Camp is coordinated by teachers of blind and low vision students and held at the US Space and Rocket Centre in Alabama.
The camp is a scaled-down version of the sort of training that astronauts at NASA do. For example, a typical spaceship cockpit would have around 3,000 switches, but the space camp model has around 250.
Teamwork, leadership and decision-making skills are cultivated, and space campers need to negotiate a variety of complex environments. Each camper is encouraged to be as independent as possible.
Preparing for Space Camp
Seth and Ruby began preparing for the challenges before they left for the US.
They boarded their plane ahead of other passengers so they could work with their support teachers to orient themselves. And Ruby prepared for the trip by making sure all her things were organised methodically and put new technology skills into practice.
‘I boosted my accessible technology skills before our trip—things that wouldn’t have been possible without the support of a team of people at NextSense. I used these skills at Space Camp, which helped me participate fully with students from all over the world,’ she says.
My support teacher Pranitha is really good at teaching me, because I went blind after receiving treatment for cancer, when I was around 11 years old. I read a lot more braille books now and it feels just amazing that I can read on my own again.
Ruby says Space Camp was ‘the most accessible experience I've had in my life, with everything tailored to your blindness or low vision’.
Challenges and trouble shooting
Elizabeth and Pranitha valued the experience too, impressed that their charges took every physical and mental challenge in their stride.
‘I thoroughly enjoyed working with Seth through each camp activity, particularly missions,’ Elizabeth says. ‘It was a pleasure to see him connect with his Space Camp friends who came from different parts of the world.’
Pranitha says Space Camp took the students out of their comfort zone.
‘So we were big on independence. There was a lot of achievement around orientation and mobility, travel time and taking on challenges.’
Ruby did trouble shooting and instructed members of the mission control team. ‘When it didn't work out, you just had to find a different way to do it, which was really interesting. It was all about teamwork,’ she says.
Seth relished the daily challenges and flexing his decision-making skills as shuttle commander on a mission, ‘it was pretty good—not one flaw happened when I was in command, so it was a successful mission.’
Seth and Ruby have been friends for some time, having met through their mutual interest in music. Among other hobbies and interests, Ruby sings and learns piano, while Seth sings, performs and produces music. Now, they have a host of new friends from around the world, with big plans to keep connected.
Everyone should go to Space Camp—if you can find a way to go and you're blind or visually impaired, it's just such an amazing experience.