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New Scholarship Sends W.Va. Students To Space Camp

The space station as photographed from the space shuttle Atlantis after the station and shuttle began their post-undocking relative separation on May 23, 2010.
NASA
The space station as photographed from the space shuttle Atlantis after the station and shuttle began their post-undocking relative separation on May 23, 2010.

Space Camp is the stuff of childhood legend, and two West Virginia students will have the opportunity to attend this summer thanks to a new scholarship.

The program, hosted at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama gives more than 40,000 students a year, from around the world, unique opportunities to explore science and engineering hands-on.

But when rocket center board member, and West Virginia native, Homer Hickam looked around, he noticed something was missing from the camp.

“I was very disappointed to see that there were very, very few West Virginia students taking advantage of Space Camp,” Hickam said. “I saw less than 100 West Virginia students coming to space camp this past summer.”

Hickam is best known for his first memoir, “The Rocket Boys,” and its subsequent film adaptation “October Sky.” As a once-burgeoning rocket engineer from the coal fields of southern West Virginia, he has a unique understanding of the opportunity Space Camp represents to students in the state.

“If there had been a Space Camp, and I would have been able to attend it, I can’t even even imagine how wonderful that would have been,” Hickam said. “Space Camp is a great opportunity not only for the education that you get, but for the people that you meet. It really broadens the horizons of students meeting their peers from around the country and around the world.”

Given how close West Virginia is to Huntsville relative to the rest of the country, Hickam was distressed so few students were taking advantage of the program. With the release of his latest memoir titled “Don’t Blow Yourself Up” this past fall, Hickam saw an opportunity to remedy the issue. He partnered for a reading tour with the West Virginia-based and family-owned Adams Hallmark chain of stores

Using proceeds from the sales of the book in Adams Hallmark’s seven locations, Hickam and the Adams family set up a scholarship to send West Virginia students to Space Camp.

It’s a project that Andrea Underwood says perfectly honors the legacy of her father and company founder Mike Adams who passed away in October.

“Dad was a coal camp kid,” she said. “Dad would be just excited that his legacy is letting other kids who are from West Virginia have this opportunity to expand their horizons and, and go see new things and do things that he never had the opportunity to do.”

It’s an opportunity 12-year-old scholarship recipient Xander Dennison of Exchange, WV has been looking forward to for a while.

“I'm wanting to go because I've always had an interest in aviation and aerospace ever since I was maybe three and I've tried to keep that dream ever since and this just made that dream even better,” he said.

Dennison is one of two recipients of the inaugural scholarship, the first exclusively to help West Virginia students attend Space Camp.

“I was reading it, and I saw that it said I gotten the scholarship and honestly I kind of danced because I was always happy and surprised,” he said.

Dennison’s mother, Amber, said the $1500 scholarship to cover the camp’s cost will make a big difference.

“It's so hard to give him the opportunities because we just don't have a lot of that stuff around and then the cost that you know accumulates,” she said. “So not having to have that stress of worrying about the camp now we can focus on getting him there letting him enjoy camp to his fullest potential.”

As far as summer camps go, Space Camp is one of the most exciting and coveted experiences. But Hickam hopes it encourages young West Virginians to join the ranks of mountaineers that came before them in the field of aerospace.

“West Virginia has a long history of folks from the Mountain State working in the aerospace industry, not only me, but folks like Chuck Yeager,” he said. “The first CEO of Space Camp was Ed Buckbee, who was a Shepherdstown, West Virginia native.”

Hickam and the Adams family hope this scholarship inspires another generation of Mountaineers to reach for the stars.

North Central/Morgantown Reporter, cschulz@wvpublic.org, 304-284-1497, @SchulzReports

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