I Killed Everyone on My Mission to Mars

And it was a blast.

What’s the first thing you would say if you were the very first person to step on Mars? I had mine figured out from the start. And when I stepped onto the Red Planet, I let it out: “Welcome to Mars. Let’s colonize this bitch.” I also quickly followed that up with a comment to my crew. “Sorry I killed all of you on the way here.”

As I’m sure you may have guessed, I wasn’t actually on Mars. I was the commander of a mission to the fictional version of the planet as part of an adult Space Camp day program in Huntsville, Alabama. It had been a particularly wild adventure that day, with me leaping around on the moon’s surface, nearly puking everywhere in the multi-axis trainer (or as I call it, the gyro-chair), and then almost immediately killing my entire Mars crew once we got on our shuttle.

Oh, and the night before, I scraped my head on a space capsule in the on-site beer garden, bled everywhere, and had to go to Sick Bay. Needless to say, I’m an amazing pick for commander. And yes, you read that right: Space Camp has a German oompah bar beer garden. It’s like heaven there, folks. Here's why you should go to adult Space Camp and what missions to do while you're there.

But first, let me explain how I killed everyone.

astronaut training
I can totally do that. | Space Camp

After getting elected as commander (apparently I’m an excellent leader), my crew and I piled into the shuttle for take-off. The trainers at Space Camp tell you in advance that it’s a tough job, but seeing how I’m such a team titan, I was sure I could handle it.

And then numbers happened. You have to look up numerical codes and type them in on keypads, quickly, while paging through checklists and large books full of the codes. I also needed to, you know, fly the thing. So shortly after launch, I managed to accidentally use the codes to flip the shuttle upside-down and hurtle us back to earth. It was a fiery explosion. There were no survivors. It’s possible I killed everyone at the launch pad as well. Sorry guys—I was doing science.

Luckily my very forgiving crew gave me a second chance. This time, we made it to Mars. I’m pretty sure we had a heap of help from Mission Control, though. We landed the shuttle, walked out, and started a Mars Garden. And that’s the story of how a previously crashed shuttle full of zombies masquerading as astronauts colonized the Red Planet.

Huntsville, Alabama
Space Camp is in Huntsville, Alabama—where you will *not* be allowed to drive the rocket ship. | Space Camp

Do you want the chance to expertly crash a shuttle and kill your entire crew, too? Great news, you can DIY your space death on your own trip to adult Space Camp.

Ages 18 and up can do a weekend mission at Adult Space Academy. You live in dorms on-site for the weekend and do all the training things actual astronauts do—like building rockets, launching them, crashing a shuttle, repairing it, building a space station, and piloting your crew back to Earth to land in a space capsule on the ocean.

space camp
Spacecamp! | Space Camp

When you arrive, you get one of the standard blue NASA jumpsuits (you may remember them from Space Camp, the brilliant 1986 film where a group of kids accidentally launch themselves in real space). You also get a pretty rad leather name tag that’s affixed to your jumpsuit upside-down until you successfully complete training. Then, it’s time for a walk on the moon.

The moon walk isn’t technically a walk—it’s more a sit-down-and-jump situation. You’re strapped into a 1/6th-gravity chair, which replicates the feeling of hopping around on the moon. You’re also strolling along a replica of the moon’s surface, so if you block out everything else (including the fact that you’re not wearing a spacesuit and would be super dead in space for real), you can truly imagine that you’re there.

You do learn two types of walking that astronauts actually use on the moon: the bunny hop and the side step. And then you can freestyle your way along the surface. If you’re like me, you’ll fly out into space and someone will need to reel you back in.

how to be an astronaut
No, no, you go next. | Space Camp

Next up is the gyro-chair—I mean, multi-axis trainer. This is a contraption that looks like a giant gyroscope. You sit in the middle of it, and the entire thing, your chair included, starts spinning around and around and upside-down. It’s supposed to acclimate you to what it feels like when you’re spinning out of control in space. One of the coolest things about these is that they’re Space Camp-specific. NASA astronauts trained on them for the Mercury mission, and no other space crew has this exact setup. The spinning only takes about a minute, just long enough for you to get just about violently ill if you’re really sensitive to motion sickness. Don’t worry, though—most people do fine, I’m just kind of a delicate flower sometimes.

Your last Space Camp test is the mock mission to Mars. You’ll be either Mission Control, monitoring the Mars flight from the control room; a Mission Specialist, which means you get to put on a full spacesuit and fly up into space to repair your shuttle; or Orbiter Crew, where you go on the shuttle to get killed by me. You’ll train for every position to see what fits best before the actual mission begins.

If you haven’t been flying with me and you successfully return to Earth, you graduate from Space Camp. They don’t play “Pomp and Circumstance,” but there is a ceremony where your name tag is flipped right-side-up, you get a diploma, and everyone cheers for you. And then you can go home and apply to be a real astronaut, because now you’re an expert. And hopefully not a zombie.

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Jennifer Billock is a freelance writer and author, usually focusing on some combination of culinary travel, culture, sex, and history. Check her out at JenniferBillock.com and follow her on Twitter: @jenniferbillock.