By Ashley Hocking
Sophomore Jesse Belt was absent from his classes for the first week of March. He was 700 miles away at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala.
Belt was among 284 applicants from 38 countries who were accepted to attend the NASA and Honeywell Leadership Challenge Academy.
“I actually found out on my birthday,” Belt said. “The first thing I did was call my dad and tell him what happened.”
Belt’s father, Stacy Belt, shares a similar interest in the field of aeronautics. He strongly encouraged his son to apply.
“I was excited that he had the opportunity to go and wished that I had been able to tag along as well,” Stacy Belt said.
In order to be eligible to attend the camp, applicants had to be the son or daughter of a Honeywell Corporation employee and had to complete an application that included several essays and a resume detailing volunteer hours and community leadership roles. In return, all expenses of the camp were financed by Honeywell.
“We got a bunch of flight suits and nerdy stuff like that,” Belt said. “It was pretty cool.”
Even before he set foot on Alabama soil, Belt had a homework assignment to complete.
“They told us to know what was going on with NASA,” Belt said. “I had to learn about a bunch of current events.”
Throughout the camp, Belt participated in space simulations, laboratory activities, field training and physical challenges. He also had the opportunity to meet scientists, engineers and former astronauts.
“We did 80 hours of activities in just a couple days,” Belt said. “It was really busy. My favorite activity was a space shuttle mission that lasted five hours. We had to pretend to send somebody to space to get to a satellite and fix it. That was a pretty fun thing to do.”
The U.S. Space and Rocket Center is home to a variety of facilities including a spacedome theater, rocket park and education training center.
“They had a wide range of training including mock space missions, fighter jet training on high tech simulators, high G-Force training in a centrifuge, low gravity simulations, mock disaster management, genome sequencing exercises at the HudsonAlpha Institute in Huntsville, rock climbing, high zip line work and various other team building exercises,” Stacy Belt said. “They kept him busy from breakfast until lights out.”
After experiencing nearly a week of non-stop activities, Belt still wasn’t ready to return home.
“It kind of made normal school boring now just because it was so exciting for six straight days,” Belt said.
The camp left a lasting impression not only on Belt, but also on his educational career. Camp participants are eligible to receive college credit for their involvement at the camp from most universities.
“I think it was really beneficial for him,” Belt’s debate partner, sophomore Bradlea Padgett said. “He learned so much there, and everything really helped him educationally and with his career.”
Padgett has supported Belt throughout his aeronautic endeavors and has been impressed with his drive to succeed.
“That’s what he wants to do with his life, and he’s doing it,” Padgett said. “It’s amazing. When he wants something, he makes it happen. I can see him going into the aeronautics field in general now. He’s smarter than a lot of people.”
Belt’s father sees a bright future for Belt in the field of aeronautics.
“I could certainly see him working on the ground at NASA if he so desires,” Stacy Belt. “He seems to like the idea mission control work. The mission control guys have to be able to solve problems on the fly, and he seems to like that kind of challenge.”
Though most students his age have not made such substantial accomplishments, Belt has not let it get to his head.
“He’s not different,” Padgett said. “He just has great new things to talk about. He loves to talk about space camp, the people he met and how great it was to be around people who shared the same interest as him. Everyone is insanely interested.”
As a result of his experiences at the camp, Belt was inspired to one day pursue a career as an aerospace engineer.
“It’s changed my life,” Belt said. “I’ve been interested in it for a while, but I really decided at space camp. I really want to work at NASA one day. That would be really cool. Maybe someday I could go into space as a scientist or something.”