Savannah Bullins, a student at Midway High School, took the chance to broaden her horizons and fly past her comfort zone by seeking a taste of outer space, and her hard work paid off.
Last year, when she was accepted to the Honeywell Leadership Challenge Academy in Huntsville, Ala., Bullins had no idea how much of a life-changer her trip was going to be.
“My dad works for Honeywell,” she said in an interview, just over a week after returning from the academy. The academy is open to students with a parent who is a full-time employee of the company. Last year she applied for the academy and found herself at the Space Center from Feb. 22-28, 2014 .
“Applicants have to have good grades,” she stressed. There was also essay questions she had to complete in order to participate. She sent in the application last October and found out she was accepted in December.
“I got an email about my acceptance, and that was when I realized it was for a space camp,” she asserted, excitement rising in her voice. Bullins said she had no idea before that that it was a space camp, and that initially the idea of going on such an adventure was out of her comfort zone.
It wasn’t long, however, before Honeywell sent her a packet with all the details, and Bullins started looking at the program a little closer.
That’s when the excitement began to build.
“Honeywell sent me a packet and the more I read about it the more interested I became,” she divulged. Students in the academy participate in a plethora of activities ranging from classroom work and being inside simulators to actually building a rocket. They even went to see Apollo 13 at the IMAX theater.
The program focuses on STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and math.
“We built a rocket,” explained Bullins. “We had to put a carrier with an egg in it and try to keep the egg from bursting.”
“There was a zero gravity room as well as a space mission simulator,” the teen added.
Keeping the focus on science, the Hudson Alpha Institute for Biotechnology also had a presentation on DNA.
“We learned about different trisomes,” said Bullins. A trisomy is the condition of having three copies of a chromosome instead of the usual two. She learned about the trisomy 18 and 21 during her time in Huntsville. One particular case that came up was Baby Elliot, who was born with trisomy 18, who has been featured on national television. Trisomy 21 is Down’s Syndrome.
“We watched a Powerpoint on Baby Elliot,” she said. “We didn’t know it was him that we were watching at the time. His parents were in the audience. He lived for 79 days.”
“It was really neat,” divulged Bullins. “It made me cry.” She said that the parents spoke about how baby Elliot had the trisomy 18 and how it changed their lives.
One space mission was like a computer game, she said, turning her focus to the space-related activities that were part of the academy. They were assigned characters, and they had to try and keep their character alive. There were diseases and complications that would be aggravated by being space.
“We had to pack our medicine before we left,” she detailed. “It was one of my favorite parts; we had to keep them alive.”
Trying to stay alive was the first thing on Bullins mind when they had endurance day.
“We had to climb a 48-foot pole,” she emphasized. “We had to trust our team as we climbed to the top.” At the top of the pole there was a small platform where she had to turn around and touch a white rope. She said that it was a lot like rock climbing in the sense that they had harnesses and there were supervisors there to make sure no one got hurt.
“I almost cried climbing up there,” mentioned Bullins. “I was freaking out.”
And the meals, at least those relative to space, well they weren’t, she said, her favorite part.
“I ate a Mars meal,” she detailed. “It was like frozen ice cream sandwich, but it was gritty and tasted like old chocolate.”
During her stay she bunked with other girls in an on-campus dormitory style area at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and they had to wear flight suits. Food was provided by cafeteria during her stay and on the first and last nights they had dinner in the NASA Space Center under a rocket.
She graduated during that last night from the academy with a completion certificate.
Another challenge she faced was aviation. During that challenge she spent one day training, learning how to use the throttle and joy stick. Each student was in charge of their own airplane in that simulator, having to take off and land without a crash.
“We could all see each other,” she added. “I flew an F18 and shoot enemies but keep the plane up.” The whole goal was to keep the president safe.
Bullins was also able to get into an anti-gravity simulator, which she describes as being like in a tornado. It was really fast, she said, and it made her ears pop.
Students from 38 countries apply to the HLCA, she said, and she also had the chance to meet with other students from Venezuela, Canada, Italy and Japan. She was the only one from North Carolina.
“It was nothing like I thought it was going to be,” she said. “It was really fun and I hope next year I can go back as an Ambassador.”
“I would definitely do it again,” Bullins added. “It was a once in a lifetime experience.”
Emily M. Hobbs can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 122 or via email at email@example.com.