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Southside High educators attend space camp

The Alabama State Legislature funded 87 teachers from across the state to participate in Space Academy for Educators at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville.

Two of those selected to attend were Southside High School Lt. Col. Steve Ruiz, Air Force Junior ROTC instructor, and Marvin Tolbert, a science teacher at Southside.

“It was a really great experience because I got to learn a lot from the other teachers as well as the other things that we got to do,” Ruiz said.

Ruiz had been before in 1998 but was excited to go back and participate in some of the new activities they had to offer.

Ruiz said Space Academy is an intensive 5-day program that provides educators the opportunity to serve in various capacities on simulated missions to the International Space Station and to Mars.

In addition, all can experience complete disorientation with the Multi-Axis Trainer or 1/6 the force of gravity on a simulated Moon-walk.

The teachers also have the chance to build and launch model rockets while also learning to work as a team overcoming physical obstacles at Area 51, the Leadership Reaction Course.

Ruiz said they also were able to zip line into the Aviation Challenge Lake and experience evacuation procedures from a downed and sinking helicopter.

“Doing the hands-on activities was really great, but also learning a lot of teaching techniques and just different things from the teachers were pretty good too,” Ruiz said. “It was a great experience.”

Those in attendance had the opportunity to meet Homer Hickam, author of the best-seller, “The Rocket Boys” which was also made into the movie, “October Sky.”  They also learned from the life experiences of retired Navy Captain and Space Shuttle Astronaut Wendy Laurence.

Ruiz said the purpose of the educator space camp is for them to return to their schools and talk about it with the students and encourage them to learn more about space.

“They bring the educators in to fire up the young people to want to go to learn more about space,” he said.

At the end of the camp, one educator is chosen for the Right Stuff Award, in which the person is selected based on who the staff feels has the right stuff to become an astronaut. This year, the award was given to Ruiz, who happened to be the oldest of all of the participants.

“It was completely unexpected,” he said. “I was the oldest out of all of the people there. I was completely surprised.”