Your source for everything Monarch


Your source for everything Monarch


Your source for everything Monarch


Shooting For The Moon: 2012 Colorado Teacher of the Year Kristin Donley travels to Alabama for Space Camp

Sitting on the classroom floor in kindergarten, many kids dreamed of being astronauts, shooting through space in a rocket and walking on the moon. Monarch biology teacher Kristin Donley was one of these kids, and during the past summer, her childhood dream became a reality.

As a part of the 2012 Colorado Teacher of the Year award, Donley was given the opportunity to attend International Space Camp. Donley traveled to the NASA training center in Huntsville, Alabama from July 20th to the 27th to participate in space camp. “I’ve always wanted to be an astronaut, so I was very excited,” she said.

Attending the camp along with Donley were all of the other Teachers of the Year from around the country, as well as eight international teachers, who traveled to Alabama from places such as the Netherlands, Australia, and Great Britain.

Each morning of camp, the teachers woke up early to be on campus by 7 a.m. to eat a quick breakfast and get on with the day’s activities. “Oh, it was grueling; it’s a lot like boot camp,” said Donley of the daily schedule.

Though the agenda was demanding, it was all worth it for the incredible training they received. Each day, the teachers participated in all types of different training exercises. This included a rope course and simulators.

“They use the same training apparatuses that they use with the astronauts, so they do the same simulations and everything so you really get a feel for what it would be like to be an astronaut.”

One of these simulators was the Gimbal, which simulates the tumbling and rolling motions of a space capsule. “I did [the Gimbal] like 5 times, until they shut it down and said we have to stop. I want one for my living room, I think. It is so cool,” said Donley.

Though Donley took a shine to the simulators, she discovered that the ropes course was not her forte. One of the most daunting parts of the course was the ‘Leap of Faith.’ This activity involved the participants being hooked into a harness at the top of a building six to seven stories high, and then falling backwards off the edge. Then just before they hit the bottom, they were caught by a zip line and sped to safety. Being afraid of heights, this was Donley’s least favorite activity of the week. “I was terrified,” she said,  “and I was shaking.”

Another training exercise involved learning how to walk in reduced gravity. It sounds easy, but when astronauts are in less than normal gravity situations, this basic process changes drastically. The teachers learned different techniques and stances to use in different gravitational situations to master the art of space walking. Educational lectures were also a common activity for the weekend, in which the teachers learned about past space missions and the history of NASA, among other things.

In addition to all these activities, Donley was given a special opportunity to experience a weightless situation. Only two teachers in the program had the chance to do this, and Donley was one of them. In this simulation, Donley was building solar panels on the moon, in a building with one sixth the normal force of gravity, which gives a person the feeling of being completely weightless. This was by far Donley’s favorite part of the trip, especially because she was one of only two people who got to do it. “I’m totally cut out for that, I’ve decided. I love jumping around the moon!”

On the last day of camp, all of the teachers participated in a shuttle mission, designed to put the skills they learned over the past six days to the test. The participants were split into four teams to compete against each other. In this mission, each team was required to complete tasks such as launching the shuttle, space walk in a weightless situation to repair the outside of the shuttle, conduct science experiments, re-connect with the space station and receive new passengers, and land the shuttle. In addition to these daunting tasks, warning lights often went off that signified a situation that needed to be taken care of, such as re-stabilizing oxygen levels in the shuttle.

Each team had one teacher who acted as the commander of the shuttle, and Donley was selected to lead her group. “The scary part is they put me in control of the entire mission,” said Donley. “So there was a point where all the lights started flashing, because they were trying to challenge us, and I was like, ‘crap what do we do now,’ and they were all like, ‘well you’re the commander, what do you suggest?’”

In the end, Donley’s group came out on top. By collecting the most points throughout the mission, they won first place and received a special shuttle award. Looking back on the experience, Donley was proud that “I didn’t chicken out of anything I did. Even if it was scary, I did everything.”

Returning to Monarch, Donley believes that the lessons she learned at space camp can be transferred to her students. “If you put your mind to anything, you can do anything,” she said. “A lot of times what stops people is their fears, but you can overcome those fears. I felt really powerful afterwards, like ‘I can do anything,’ if I can overcome some of the fears that I’ve had, I can do anything and be anything. Even this old, I can still be an astronaut!”

So what’s next for Donley? All the teachers in attendance, after completing a week of space camp, now have the opportunity to apply for an astronaut in training program, in which they can be selected to be a part of real space missions. “They’re really looking at missions to Mars,” said Donley. “Of course that would be a pretty big commitment for whoever gets elected, because it takes a couple of years just to get there, but I would do that in a heartbeat.”


Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All MOHI Mix Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *