Great Britain

Head to Space Camp with Nasa for a real out-of-this-world trip in Alabama

IN space, no one can hear you scream. In Space Camp, they can.

As another mission ends in disaster — with our shuttle nosediving into a swamp — the shrieks of frustration howl through our headsets.

Astro­nauting is harder than it looks.

I’ve flown out to Huntsville, Alabama — home to Nasa’s Marshall Space Flight Center — for the chance to play space cadet for the weekend.

Here, the quirky Space Camp programme, which has been admitting teenage students for years, has just opened the airlocks to adults, too.

These weekend retreats see wannabe spacemen and women zip into their blue Nasa jumpsuits to tackle a series of challenges and enjoy a surprisingly believable taste of life as an astronaut.

Right from lift-off, it is clear this is a lot more Buzz Aldrin than Buzz Lightyear.

After signing an alcohol waiver, our team of six Americans, three Brits and a Guatemalan is escorted to Mission Control — a hyper-realistic control room with banks of computers beneath large walls of TV screens displaying our first space shuttle simulation.

We don clunky headsets and start following instructions, flicking switches, firing ignitions and solving problems.

Soon, our computerised shuttle lifts into the sky and manages to briefly achieve a stable orbit. Cue Hollywood-style whoops and high-fives all round.

Within seconds, however, our spirits — and shuttle — come crashing back to Earth, spilling two astronauts and most of our equipment from the cargo bay.

Thankfully, our spacewalking is a lot better. In pairs, we’re taken into a cavernous hangar bay, where we’re helped into heavy white space suits, boots and helmets.

Next, we’re roped and strapped into harnesses before being “floated” outside a replica International Space Station.

From here, we swoop backwards and forwards — finding tools, fixing leaks and replacing fuel canisters.

GRADUATION CEREMONY

Space Camp’s primary mission is to replicate the astronaut experience as closely as possible — and this extends to the accommodation, too.

Guests are housed in purpose-built dormitories called Habitats, which look like enormous toilet rolls. Inside, each contains rows of bedroom cubicles, modelled on the living spaces aboard a real shuttle.

Or, there’s the more luxurious option of a Marriott hotel on campus.

Our second morning dawns in dramatic fashion, with a ride on the merciless Multi-Axis Trainer.

Essentially a large metal sphere, we’re strapped inside one at a time, before being hurled manically around its axis — to replicate the feeling of a tumble-spin on re-entry.

Imagine being trapped inside a ping-pong ball, inside a violent washing-machine cycle, and you’re getting close.

Then imagine not abiding by the alcohol waiver the night before, and you’ll appreciate why a few of the team emerge looking distinctly Martian at the gills.

Next up is a turn on the Force Accelerator — a fairground-like contraption which applies enough G-Force it feels like our skin is peeling off.

Then it is the more genteel One-Sixth Chair to replicate walking on the moon — which has a sixth of the Earth’s gravity.

The weekend flies by, progressing through a series of hands-on experiments and role-playing missions.

We build and fire our own mini-rockets to test the principles of thrust. We practise first-aid in low gravity and even construct heat shields to protect hypothetical mini-astronauts (represented by eggs) from burning up on re-entry (represented by blowtorches).

Needless to say, a number of “eggstronauts” crack under the pressure. Houston? We have an omelette.

Our graduation ceremony on the Sunday afternoon comes all too soon, then it’s finally time to step off campus and come back down to Earth for good.

Space Camp might have started as a means of entertaining high-school students in the summer holidays, but the adult version is challenging, rewarding and fun.

While the world waits for Elon Musk and Richard Branson to come good on their promises of interstellar vacations, this is as close as you’re going to get to a holiday that is truly out of this world.

GO: SPACE CAMP

GETTING THERE: The US Space And Rocket Center, where the Space Camp is housed, is ten minutes’ drive from Huntsville International Airport. Fly from the UK via Dallas/Fort Worth.

MORE INFO: When lockdown is lifted, the three-day adult Space Academy usually takes place once a month, costing from £430pp including all food and two nights’ accommodation. See spacecamp.com.

Nasa astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley arrive at the International Space Station in SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule

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