Most of the RA’s took an adventurous chance on their lives by white water rafting without a guide on a III-IV rated path down the Lower Youghiogheny. Kamara was away for the weekend at a wedding and those who valued their lives (a.k.a. Jennifer and Michael) had a relaxed day off back at the hotel and were asked what the difference in risk was between skydiving and white water rafting. For those who went on the rafting trip, on the way down there was a much needed stop at a rest area for gas, bathroom breaks and Starbucks/snacks. It took a little while to figure everything out but once we arrived and had signed our lives away to the raft lady, Adam and Bernard ventured to the end of the path to drop off Bernard’s car so that we’d have a vehicle to drive the raft back.
There was a cute little spot next to the raft rental where we parked ourselves and the cooler that we brought and had lunch before setting out on our journey. We purchased shuttle tickets and watched a pre-launch video on how dangerous the river can be and informing us of how we would probably die if we did anything stupid. We set out on our travel downriver and proceeded to get stuck on our first rapid. There was much team effort to free ourselves… but no luck.
Bouncing of butts, leaning to different sides of the raft, and pushing hard off rocks still proved no avail. Eventually three boys, witnessing our perilous situation, came along to assist us and hopped into the water. After several minutes of intense pushing, shoving, bouncing, you-name-it, we were off again on our trek down the river.
We stopped for a break and watched the pros in the group skip rocks (while the amateurs more-or-less plopped rocks). Adam took out his trusty Ziploc bag full of Cheerios which were, luckily, completely dry. Becca laid out on a rock and Jess, Adam, and Steph discovered firsthand that the water was pretty cold. There was a HUGE, slimy, fire-breathing, 100 ft. long snake curled up on the rocks so we hopped back into our rafts before it could eat us and safely made our way back onto the river.
Just to mix things up, we switched around our caller (a.k.a. the person who calls out rowing directions). First it was Kyle, then Adam, followed by Steph (for like one rapid) and finishing it out for us was the lovely Ashley Micks. We stopped at this big rock (like 25 foot high) to jump off it following suit of a guided tour ahead of us. We watched where they jumped to and witnessed several successful jumps before attempting it ourselves. Stephanie touched bottom and no one was seriously injured (just kidding no one was injured at all). Then we got back into the raft and continued on our adventure.
Our raft kept spinning around once we would hit or get stuck on rocks. It was a pretty clever maneuver and by the end of the path we were pros at it. We were able to switch out Steph’s mini-paddle for a normal-sized one that was floating down the river after the crazy (entrapping) rapid, which we practiced hard for during the long, peaceful stretch of river before. It was a success though, we made it out alive.
“Hard right… no no… Hard left! Oh no! Man overboard!!” Luckily we only had one person tossed over the side of the raft during the whole trip and it was Kyle towards the very beginning. The main reason he probably ended up overboard is because the two people sitting in the very front of the raft can’t anchor their feet very well so they’re at the mercy of the jostling raft. After the last rapid, we quickly rowed over to the left side for the “last exit in 10 miles” and carried the raft to the shuttle bus stop. We hopped into the shuttle that took us up the hill three miles to the parking lot where Bernard’s car was. We sent the boys to pick up the other car and return the raft.
Jess and Steph changed out of their wet clothes in the relatively roomy porta-potties. On the way home, we accidentally took the wrong exit and had to ride 20 miles in wrong direction since it was a toll road and that was the first exit we came to. Since we had to turn around anyways, we then stopped at Subway to get enough food to sustain us for the 3 ½ hour-long drive home. Subway now has healthy options and Steph and Becca tried out the apples while Adam gave the raisins a try. Bernard’s car ended up getting back before Kyle’s even though they were ahead of Bernard’s car the whole way back. See they decided to try taking 80 to 480 instead of hopping off 80 at the 71 exit and then taking that to 480. Haha… we win… you guys got pwned.
Sunday was devoted to working on the midterm poster presentation since there was less than a week between when the poster details were announced and when it was due. Bernard and Jennifer went to the Solar 2007 conference earlier in the day at the convention center that was conveniently located in Cleveland this year. They saw lots of solar panels, sat in a cute 3-wheeled purple electric car, and listened to a presentation on micro wind turbines. Jess, Stephanie and Adam took a trip to the local Giant Eagle to do some much needed grocery shopping. Afterwards Jess and Steph (minus Adam) headed over to Target. The Sunday night weekly group project meeting was postponed and Kyle and Bernard went to church at 7:07. Jess, Becca and Jennifer worked on posters in Stephanie and Jennifer’s room while watching movies. Later on Stephanie and Kyle worked on the epic weekly summary of week 5 until two in the morning… gross.
We left StudioPLUS at 7:15ish for breakfast, but were unable to use the special Academy breakfast room due to a catering event. Then we headed off to work with our mentors at 8:00. Monday was also spent working on posters all day. Jess, Steph, and Jess’s labmate Kelly ran out to the post office and to get smoothies and other healthy food for lunch. The smoothies were kind of awkward tasting since they had supplements mixed in, but that’s the price you pay for drinking healthy, right? Some people stayed late at GRC to catch up and continue working on their posters. We had a wonderful rap session at 7:00 and then split off to do… drum roll please… more work on posters!
As we drove through the entrance at Glenn, Stephanie heard that President Bush was going to be in Cleveland today on the radio. We drove past the hangar on the way to breakfast and saw Marines and a helicopter. After gathering at the cafeteria and a little encouragement from Kamara, we decided to go over to hanger and see if we could catch a closer look at it. Some of the RAs were able to quickly buy breakfast food at the cafeteria and immediately stuff the goods in their bags, after which we all headed back over to the hangar for an ad hoc adventure.
The other hungry RAs were just out of luck and felt that a chance to see the President’s helicopter was worth the cost of breakfast for one day. On the way to the hanger, Ashley tried to take pictures of the helicopter, so Bernard slowed the car down a bit. Immediately a Marine with a machine gun started running in our direction motioning for us to move on (later we discovered that we’re not allowed to take pictures of the tail). Steph was scared. Kamara went into the building to schmooze and was successful at getting us into the hallway so we could look through the doors of the hanger. While in the hallway, Kamara and a NASA employee from that building went into the hangar to ask the Marines if we could have a quick tour… it worked!
We were able to go inside the hangar, but a Marine took our badges, social security numbers, birthdays, birth cities and a blood sample (just kidding) before could get too close to the helicopter. The tour of the Presidential Helicopter Squad aircraft, flown by Marines, to transport and protect the President and Vice President on short trips was really cool. This was one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences that make the Academy a unique program. After taking pictures, asking lots of questions, and buying merchandise with the Presidential seal, we left for our respective buildings to continue our individual research projects.
Posters are due on Wednesday morning, so most everyone was working hard all night long on those. No AMC movie night because of the closely approaching deadline of our posters.
Breakfast in B-fifteenies at the usual time. Then we had a couple hours for work with our mentors. Most of us went to turn in our posters to the Graphics department around 10:00ish since we had to be over at the hangar to be picked up by the airport shuttle bus by 10:40. We left for Houston and enjoyed the hilarious in-flight movie Blades of Glory (I love you Will Ferrell). Continental provided us with a lovely “non-special” snack: mini-turkey sandwich, baby carrots, and M&M’s along with drink of choice. We arrived in Houston and went to pick up our rental van at Advantage car rental.
They screwed up our reservation for a 15-passenger van and so gave us two 12-passenger vans for the price of one with the gas of the extra van comped… pretty good deal, right? We then proceeded on our hour and a half long journey to dinner at a place called Fuddruckers, where we met up with one of the JSC co-ops we were staying with, Sandeep. Some people complained of neck aches… hmm must have been from the flight? We arrived at JSC, got our badges and continued on to watch Apollo 13 in the control room in which that mission actually happened. That was very cool. We could watch the movie and look down and see the same control room architecture that we saw on the big screen!
Afterward, we met with the rest of the co-ops that were nice enough to let us sleep on their couches. Since it was an hour later for us (Cleveland time zone vs. Houston time zone), most of us went straight to bed. Night owls that they are, Becca and Stephanie went out to a local bar with one of their co-ops, Sandeep, to hang out with a bunch of the other co-ops. They felt the pain of their costly decision of only a few hours sleep the next day…
Today we had tours all day at JSC. We got to see the Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL), the mockup room (building 9), the shuttle and ISS control rooms, and the old control room used in the Apollo era.
After lunch in the cafeteria, we had several speakers. The best one was regarding information about astronaut selection given by astronaut Stephen Robinson and the head of astronaut selection, Duane Ross. We ate dinner at Cadillac’s Mexican restaurant. Even with reservations, it was over 2 hours before we received our food. For some reason, even though the food is pricy and not very good, it is a tradition to go there every year. Maybe the margaritas alone really are worth it? At dinner, it was fun to mingle with the other academies and meet new people. Afterward, all the academies went to Heather’s club house to keep talking and partying.
Some people played cards – King’s Court. Then we went to the Outpost, a regular astronaut hangout, for more drinks and to play karaoke and pool. Since the night was still young (it wasn’t much after 1 a.m.), Jess, Stephanie, Jennifer, Adam, Kyle and Sandeep went back to his apartment to watch a movie. I’m pretty sure we all fell fast asleep not too long into the movie, so I couldn’t tell you anything about the movie.
Friday we got up early again to go to Lockheed Martin. Kat, a 2006 NASA Glenn Academy Alum, and ARC Alum Heather, both new Lockheed employees, gave a presentation about the CEV. Then we toured a CEV mockup at Lockheed and docked the CEV with the ISS through a flight simulation. They gave us posters and pens and other goodies on our way out. We also stopped by the visitor center and main gift shop before we left for the airport.
Once everyone arrived at the airport, we ate at Pappadeaux Cajun and seafood restaurant. It was fantastic. We had fried shrimp, crawfish and shrimp etouffe, perfect red fish, and an alligator appetizer. Yum! Room was saved for chocolate brownies and ice cream for dessert. Then we flew back to Cleveland in a completely booked Continental flight aboard a 737 and fell asleep.
–Jennifer Jones and Stephanie Vasicek