Adult Space Academy a trip to the stratosphere for serious space geeks

After a couple more missions that weekend, we got better at our jobs. As commander and pilot, respectively, Joe and I flubbed a few shuttle approaches before finally proving we had the right stuff by guiding the orbiter to a perfect landing. We high-fived, and our teammates cheered. I was ecstatic.

The physical training, modeled after programs that prepared astronauts for space travel, was also a highlight. My favorite equipment was the 1/6 chair, rigged to mimic the moon's gravitational pull, about one-sixth of the Earth's. Buckled in the chair, with my feet on the ground, I tried to step forward, only to bounce high in the air. I was terrible at moonwalking, but it was so much fun that I couldn't stop laughing.

I also got a kick out of the so-called multi-axis trainer, patterned on one built for Project Mercury astronauts to simulate tumbling maneuvers in space. Looking like a giant three-ringed gyroscope, it rotated the strapped-in rider every which way.

I ditched one activity, the G-force simulator, fearing I'd feel claustrophobic. The room-sized centrifuge spins around riders tucked into tiny pods. It magnifies gravity to three times the planet's pull — about what shuttle crews experience during launch. My intrepid teammates who took rides emerged grinning and marveling at the weirdly heavy sensations.

The packed weekend, which also included a space-trivia contest, IMAX movie, graduation ceremony and more, was not without misfires.

On the first day, Kisha appeared to be on autopilot; her patter lacked pizazz. She later confided that she was exhausted from back-to-back sessions. She soon bounced back, however. Model rocket construction was rocky. Kisha seemed unfamiliar with the kits, and we struggled to finish. But all was forgiven the next morning, when we launched our little creations, whooping with joy. I felt like a kid, even though my rocket was the only one that failed to lift off.

We didn't get much time to tour the space museum, which is a must-see. So I headed there after our Sunday morning graduation. Inside you'll find a rare Saturn V rocket; original Mercury and Gemini capsule trainers; a chunk of Skylab, the first U.S. space station; and much more. Outside, at the Rocket Park, more than 20 missiles and rockets are displayed. Also on-site is the 75-ton Pathfinder orbiter, built by NASA in 1977 as a test simulator.

In a sad coincidence, Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, died on our second day at Adult Space Academy. In his honor, some of the trainees toasted him with Fuzzy Astronaut cocktails. Lacking the traditional Tang powdered drink to mix into the peach schnapps and vodka, they improvised with Pixie Stix and food coloring.

The resulting concoctions weren't real Fuzzy Astronauts, purists might say. And we weren't real astronauts in training. But we had a hoot pretending we were, and that was real enough for me.