Space Camp Teaches Lawrence Township Students to Reach for the Stars
Writer / Lynda Hedberg Thies
When you have two exceptionally intelligent, articulate and motivated young girls excelling in school and interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), plus they happen to love learning about space, you do everything in your power to make a way for them to attend Space Camp.
And that is exactly what Cindy Corbett, the Visual Impairment Specialist for Lawrence Township, did for Alexis Helpley, an eighth grader at Belzer Middle School, and Kierstin Hall, a sixth grader at Harrison Hill Elementary School. Both girls are visually impaired, and due to the efforts of Corbett and many sponsors, the girls attended SCIVIS, the Space Camp for Interested Visually Impaired Students, from September 24-29 in Huntsville, Alabama.
Every year, Space Camp offers one week, known as “Week 53” for Visually Impaired and Blind Students to attend. This year, there were 217 students that attended from around the world as well as 89 teachers; Corbett chaperoned. The camp can be quite prohibitive, but Corbett helped the girls secure the funds to be able to attend.
The organizations that supported the girls were from the Delta Gamma Sorority, the Lawrence Lions Club, the Lions Club Glass Recycling Program and the Lawrence Township School Foundation. Kierstin’s father provided the transportation for the girls and Corbett to and from Huntsville, Alabama. This was a community effort!
Kierstin’s gratitude was evident. “Going to Space Camp means a lot because I know a lot of kids that would have liked to go, but they can’t afford it, and we were lucky enough to have the organizations and sponsors to help pay the cost of the trip!”
Both Alexis and Kierstin gained invaluable experiences and knowledge that fanned the flame of curiosity for the girls to pursue careers working for NASA. When asked whether Alexis wanted to become an astronaut, she replied, “I prefer to work at Ground Control,” but then entertained the idea of becoming an astronaut. “I would be so famous because there has never been a visually impaired astronaut that has ever gone into space.”
Kierstin echoed the sentiment about working for NASA someday. “I would really like to work on the International Space Station and be a scientist to do experiments.” The girls were assigned randomly to different small groups of about 13 girls, and both were chosen as the Commanders of their mission. The camp gave the girls the opportunity to work with students from Australia, Israel, Ireland, South Africa, Belgium, Greece, France, Nigeria and India, along with students from 25 states.
One of the most surprising things the girls learned about space travel is that it affects the astronaut’s vision. Kierstin said, “What I found to be surprising is when you are in space for six months and you return back to earth, it is proven that you lose some of your vision.”
Alexis, also intrigued by this information, jumps into the conversation and shares, “So an astronaut that goes up with 20/20 vision could return with 20/50 vision.” It’s an irony not lost on either girls. NASA is still trying to figure out why this happens.
Kierstin seemed captivated that astronauts can’t eat carbs up in space. “Gus Grissom brought a sandwich on the flight to eat and share with his friends, but the crumbs ended up in the panels and the keys, nearly causing the entire system to crash.” She also added, “I thought it was interesting that they have to exercise for two and a half hours a day because the bones deteriorate in space. The exercise equipment has to be tied down to the wall, and even so, the re-entry is tough because even after all this exercise, they are still weak when they return.”
Corbett beams like a proud parent, having worked with the girls most of the school careers. Helping them navigate the day-to-day challenges and struggles, she knows what a trip like this means to the girls. “They surprise me every day. The courage they go about life with amazes me every day. To see them in action in their groups and socializing was a great opportunity. Because of being in a public school, they might be the only one that has a visual impairment, so it was exciting for me to see them with so many kids they have something in common with, and that was really for me! And to see them shine academically on top of this was amazing!”
The feeling is mutual. The girls are so connected to Corbett because of the journey they have been on together. Their mutual love and gratitude for all Corbett has done to help them is evident. Corbett knows the girls’ exceptional academic strengths combined with her determination to help them find success will create extraordinary opportunities in the years to come. Even though they might not be able to see the stars, they definitely will be among them.