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Centennial Student Back to Earth after Space Camp Experience (November, 2005)

Macy'sGoing away to camp is exciting for any young person, but going to Space Camp is out of this world!

Centennial High School Freshman Tony Holthaus was one of  about 15 or so middle school and high school students who attended the US Space and Rocket Center camp in Huntsville, Alabama, at the end of September; this was a special session of the camp for visually impaired students.

During the time that everyone else was worrying about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the problems of Hurricane Rita, this high school freshman was joining others from across the world to learn more about space exploration and related topics. One of the most memorable parts of the experience was getting to meet new people from many different places. Tony met students from Canada, Australia and other countries. His roommate was one of the three students from Region 10 in Texas and is a current resident of Plano but actually hails from the city of Istanbul. One of his new friends that he plans on keeping in touch with is from Canada.

In addition to the international feel of Space Camp, Holthaus got actual hands on experience with the tools and simulators used to train astronauts. During a simulated shuttle trip, he filled the role of flight director. He also rode the Space Shot, a motion-based simulator that blasts its occupant 140 ft. in the air with four G’s of force.

Holthaus says he is probably pretty good at science and math, but his major interest is in movies and possibly working behind the scenes to produce and direct. He is currently in the broadcast program at Centennial and he took the video production courses at Wester Middle School as well. He is also enrolled in Theatre. Space Camp, however, was as an excellent training tool for future work with special effects, technology and “directing.”

Young people with limited or no vision were encouraged about all of the options available to them during camp.
“A person who is blind and works for NASA came to talk to us,” Holthaus said. Asked if he was surprised by that, Holthaus commented that he was not surprised at all.

According to information provided by the Huntsville program, almost 93 percent of the students who attend Space Camp eventually take more advanced science courses such as physics and chemistry.  Reports from educators also indicate that Space Camp attendees take more higher math, such as calculus. Holthaus would not commit to any great desire to take additional math classes.

Nearly half of the students that have been followed by the Space Camp program say that Space Camp influenced their college decisions and affected their career choice.

One part of  the camp that Holthaus enjoyed was visiting the space museum, which is “hands-on,” he said. The rocket park is one that former astronaut John Glenn has says is one of the finest in the world. Other museum highlights that Holthaus was exposed to included the Apollo Cockpit Trainer, Outpost in Space an interactive presentation of life on the International Space Station, space travel simulations, and actual artifacts from the United States space program.

Unlike some camp programs, Space Camp is not a place for staying up all night chatting with friends. The students had a curfew of 9:30 p.m. and had to be up bright and early at 6:30 a.m.

Holthaus had not flown since he was a very small child and had no memory of flying. To get him ready for the experience, his dad, Tom, took him to Johnson Space Center in Houston on a quick trip before school started. His dad is an engineer and has a great interest in space as well. At NASA in Houston, they both flew in the simulator to land a shuttle, neither did well, but Mr. Holthaus said that Tony did better than he did.

Upon returning from Space Camp, Tony told his father that he would like to go again, but said he thought he would rather go in the summer rather than miss school. Although Tony is receiving some credit for the lessons he learned at Space Camp, he was not exempted from all of his classwork. After a week of fun he returned the real world of freshman year to assignments that had to be completed. He also returned to the family cat, Fresca, who spent the week searching the house for him.

Holthaus was the first FISD visually-impaired person to go to Space Camp. He regularly works with Melinda Loyd, the district’s V.I. special education teacher. Ms. Loyd said that Texas is far ahead of many states with the curriculum and opportunities offered to visually-impaired students.

“We are so lucky to be in this area, in a state that has all these things for students,” said  Elizabeth Holthaus, Tony’s mother. His parents definitely hope he has the opportunity to go again.

Though Tony Holthaus attended through a state program, parents interested in sending their students to Huntsville for Space Camp may contact the organization at or 1-800-63SPACE.