Space camp shoots dreams into orbit

Eight lucky youngsters earn the chance to step into astronauts' shoes at US space programme

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 August, 2013, 3:52am

It was fifth-time lucky for Edith Chow Ka-ying, 11, who finally saw her dream come true when she won a place on a "junior astronaut" training course in the United States.

After failing to make the grade for four years, she threw herself into basketball, swimming and even gymnastics to improve her performance in the physical tests. And it worked.

"I was jumping around when I heard I got selected this time," Chow said. "My dream finally came true. Since I was five I've always wanted to be an astronaut."

The budding space explorer also wants to have a star named after her one day.

Chow was one of eight Hong Kong children aged eight to 11 selected from 2,000 applicants to participate in the annual Junior Space Camp Programme, organised and sponsored by financial services firm MassMutual Financial Group.

The youngsters got to experience what life is really like for astronauts in space during their week-long training course at the US Space and Rocket Centre in Huntsville, Alabama.

They learned to walk and operate a spaceship in a zero-gravity environment, made and launched their own model rocket, and met space shuttle pilot Frederick Gregory, the first African-American to command a space flight.

The junior astronauts underwent three rounds of competition including a fitness test, a space knowledge exam and panel interviews before the successful candidates headed to the centre on July 24.

They spent hours preparing for the selection process, checking updates on Nasa and taking all types of extra-curricular activities to make them stand out from the competition.

At eight years old, Vanessa Woo Ho-tung was the youngest of the junior astronauts. Woo has been learning two musical instruments, two foreign languages and two different sports, and impressed the judges with the lyrics she rewrote to her favourite song, My Dream.

"Taking part in many activities has become the trend," said Woo's mother, Irene Wong Kwai-wing. "All parents want their children to learn a variety of skills, starting from kindergarten."

The judges said they were happy to see the candidates had become more well-rounded.

"The quality of the candidates we had this year was much better than 10 years ago. They probably know more about space than I do," said Agency for Volunteer Service chairman Lee Jark-pui, who has been a panel member for more than 10 years.

Well-known radio host Candy Chea Shuk-mui said she was looking for candidates who could demonstrate critical and independent thinking skills.

She was pleased to see that over the past couple of years more of the outstanding performers did not attend elite international schools.

"In the past, almost all of those who got selected were from the few well-known elite schools," Chea said.

"We are happy to see a diversity [of schools] this year."

The sponsor covered expenses, airfares, tickets, meals and accommodation for the successful participants.