Astronauts fascinate 16-year-old Roman Speegle – the Durango High School junior has wanted to be one since he was little. There’s just something about it, he said: “It’s an experience that you can never live without.”
Speegle is one of eight Durango middle and high school students who put on their astronaut suits, boarded a plane and flew to Huntsville, Alabama, on Saturday for a weeklong Space Camp hosted at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.
The Four Corners Space Camp Group makes the trip every two years, immersing the region’s young people in an international educational environment designed to encourage science, technology, engineering and math.
“It’s really fun, I get to meet new people and get new experiences that I won’t get here in Colorado,” Speegle said. “Going to Space Camp is really important to my life, and it’s really changed me so much. I would like to get more people to go every year.“
Diana Wright said she’s been taking the region’s young people to Space Camp since 2005, taking two years between trips to raise money for the flights and camp cost. They usually sell chocolates from Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory to raise money, but local businesses have also donated money or hosted fundraisers to help get kids to Space Camp.
“I hope we get some astronauts out of it, maybe some engineers,” she said. “I see our future in space travel, and I think these guys are our future.“
Space Camp trainees come from all over the world, including all 50 states, the District of Columbia and 120 countries.
Bryce Toppin made a friend from Tennessee the first time he went to Space Camp two years ago and they still talk, he said. The 13-year-old soon-to-be eighth grader said he’s excited to make new friends this year.
Nathan Ellis, a 12-year-old soon-to-be eighth grader at Escalante Middle School, helped build an ion engine at Space Camp a couple years ago. He learned how to fly simple jets the last time he went to Space Camp. Now he’s stoked to learn about space craft and experience zero gravity.
“Plus you’re away from the parents for a week,” he said. “So that’s nice.”