Move over, Neil Armstrong. Another budding astronaut has entered the space race and, even at just 11 years old, he is itching to explore what lies beyond our solar system.
Mason Azios, an incoming Wiley Middle School student and astronomer extraordinaire, recently attended Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala., where America's space program all began. Huntsville is home to the second largest research park in the United States and the fourth largest in the world.
Azios trained with Team Cepheus and worked with a team of his peers to tackled various mission scenarios that required critical problem solving and rational thinking. Throughout the week of July 15 to July 19, the students were immersed in astronaut training techniques using equipment adapted from NASA’s astronaut program.
Students were able to use gadgets that acclimated them to a space environment including 1/6th Gravity Chair, the Five Degrees of Freedom simulator and the Multi-Axis Trainer. They also constructed and launched their own rockets, used technology to design a colony built for Mars, embarked on simulated missions to the International Space Station and beyond, develop team-building and communication skills in an aquatic activity and competed in camp-wide “challenge nights.”
The weeklong educational program promotes science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), while training students and with hands-on activities and missions based on teamwork, leadership and problem solving.
This program is specifically designed for young people who have a particular interest in space exploration.
Azios spent the week training with a team that flew a simulated space mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Once aboard the ISS, the crew participated in experiments and successfully completed an extra-vehicular activity (EVA), or spacewalk. Azios and crew returned to Earth in time to graduate with honors.
“I made a lot of new friends, met some astronauts and learned about space and astronomy,” Azios smiled. “What’s not to love?”
Azios said he is interested in the anomalies that appear in galaxies, stars, planets and black holes, wanting to go as far beyond known space as possible. When asked if he was a bit afraid to go into the unknown, Azios replied with a resounding, “Nope, space is just so awesome. There’s so much we can learn from it.”
Azios is shooting for the stars as he was one of just three students from Texas and the only one from the Austin area.
Azios decided to enroll in the camp to further cultivate his lifelong interests in space and flight. More than 750,000 trainees have graduated from the Huntsville Space Camp since its inception in 1982, including European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti and NASA astronauts Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger, Kate Rubins and Serena Auñón, who recently launched to the International Space Station.
“I thought he was very privileged to be able to go because of the limitations on slots that are available to go,” said Azios’ father, Chris. “We felt really blessed that he was able to get chosen in one of those slots and very fortunate that he was able to experience this type of education, something he’s really passionate about. I think that the younger generations are really stepping up to where they’re needed and thinking about where we’re headed. It’s important for kids to get the education and training early on to be able to be prepared. So for (Mason) to be a part of that is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Mason’s mother, Leslie, said this trip — 860 miles — was the longest in both distance and time that Mason had been away from home.
“It was so good for him,” she said, adding, “He’s always been passionate about science. We’ve seen his drive since his early age. This was something he brought to us and said he wanted to do. He came back and I think it changed him a lot. He learned so much in a week.”
The Azios family bonds over a shared love of science. For a family activity, they love to peek through their telescope together.
“I was never a science person but I’ve learned so much from my family,” said Leslie.
“I was always interested in what was going on astronomy-wise,” explained Chris. “As a family, we’re into stargazing and learning constellations together.
Huntsville’s Space Camp operates year-round, using astronaut training techniques to engage trainees in real-world applications of STEM subjects. Students sleep in quarters designed to resemble the ISS and train in simulators like those used by NASA.
“I loved everything at Space Camp, it was so fun,” said Azios. “It didn’t even feel like a camp. It felt like I was undergoing training to be an astronaut.”