At a young age, William Gish was already a steady source for facts about space.
“Just randomly he would tell me facts about space when you know, like, maybe age 5, 6 – and things I didn’t know,” said Gish’s mother, Kaylee de la Motte.
So when de la Motte found out about the Space Academy at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, she knew it was just the experience he needed. Gish, currently in sixth grade at Barr Middle School, applied via a questionnaire to get a scholarship. He was awarded the scholarship, and this past summer Gish and his family drove to Huntsville, Alabama, to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.
The weeklong educational program entails STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) in its programming, at the same time training students and with hands-on activities and missions, fostering teamwork, leadership and problem solving.
Gish said missions were a highlight of the week.
“My favorite part about space camp was the missions. Basically, it’s like role playing, but you do scientific experiments,” he said. Campers had opportunities to play different roles in the missions.
“I didn’t have a very important role on the first one, but the second one I had the most important role: our station commander,” Gish said. In that role he spearheaded science experiments and assigned tasks to his teammates.
There was plenty to see at Space Camp, too, as campers got to visit different exhibits at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, a Smithsonian affiliate.
Besides world-class traveling exhibits, the center shows off the Apollo 16 capsule and the National Historic Landmark Saturn V rocket.
Saturn V left an impression on Gish, he said, using his family’s living room for scale. “It could hardly fit in the building. It was enormous ...” Gish motioned from one end of the room to the other. “Imagine right here to the other side, but times 100. It is huge.”
Another activity was a building challenge. “We actually built a 3D hexagon,” Gish said. “It was insanely hard.”
Gish is a walking encyclopedia of space facts — facts most people don’t even consider. “Did you know 90% of the space on rockets is fuel?” Gish asked, then corrected himself. “No, no. No. I’m trying to remember if that’s correct, or if it’s changed any.”
When it comes to Space Camp, Gish is in good company, according to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center news release. Among the Space Camp alum are European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti and NASA astronauts Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger, Dr. Kate Rubins and Dr. Serena Auñón-Chancellor. Christina Koch, who set the record for the longest duration space flight by a female, is among the former camp attendees. The camp has hosted curious space enthusiasts since 1982, during those years both campers and teachers hail from all 50 states and almost 150 international locations.
Gish said he plans on attending again, and is looking forward even farther. Eventually, Gish will be old enough for an advanced version of the academy, where he can get a head start on furthering his education by earning college credits at the camp.
The Space Camp 2021 graduate has an idea of what those college credits will go toward (bachelor’s and master’s degrees), but right now Gish is more concerned with learning as much as he can about the mysteries of the universe.
“If you drop into a black hole, instead of going into a circle, it feels like you’re falling into the hole into a hole, as the name suggests,” Gish explained. “And around you, everything turns blue. It starts closing because you’re dropping farther into it. And it looks like one straight line up. Then it just starts closing forever.
But for Gish, his universe is just opening.
Jessica Votipka is the education reporter at the Grand Island Independent. She can be reached at 308-381-5420.