Fairland teacher takes part in NASA program

Published 11:08 am Wednesday, October 15, 2008

PROCTORVILLE —It was a summer vacation that was out of this world. The best part of it was Kim Elliott never had to leave Mother Earth to go on it.

That’s because she was part of Space Camp, the adult-size version of the NASA program that shows what it’s like to be an astronaut. For one week Elliott, who is an eighth grade science teacher at Fairland Middle School, toughed it out at the Huntsville, Ala., campus.

What she found out was she had all the right stuff and then some. And that’s what it took as the class went through the paces from going on ersatz space missions to floating in zero gravity.

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“We went on missions where we got to pretend we were on the space shuttle,” Elliott said. “I got to actually push all the buttons, put on a space suit and go outside. It was cool.”

However, she learned hearing in outer space comes a lot easier without the helmet.

“Every day was different,” she said. “We had classes where they showed us lesson plans we could use for our students. And we had guest speakers from NASA.”

That included the most famous of the Appalachian rocket boys — Homer Hickam, who showed up to pose for photos and give out autographs.

The daredevil experiences included doing a zipline drop where she was hooked up to a parachute harness, then slid down a rope that was six stories up. It was a drop that exhilarated.

“It was exciting. I like that kind of stuff,” she said.

Elliott has had an interest in space since childhood and remembers vividly when the Challenger space shuttle exploded taking another teacher, Christa McAuliffe, to her death in 1986.

“I was a kid and it was very shocking,” she said.

As to the most famous sensation of space travel, what did Elliott think about experiencing weightlessness? More frustration than lightheadedness.

“It is hard to get the body to move in the directions you want it to go,” she said. “You have nothing to push off from. It was mostly that difficulty to move. You felt you were out there.”

Elliott readily admits being an astronaut would be a dream job and has a deeper appreciation for the vocation.

“All the training they go through, all the planning that a mission takes to go to outer space,” she said.

Now, in about another month Elliott’s students will get to take advantage of all of their teacher’s experience.

“This year I will have a lot more activities and actual footage of things people don’t always get to see,” she said. “Absolutely it was one of the best experiences of my life.”