Space Camp, here we come.

Who gets to go? Fifth-grade students at Meadow Bridge Elementary interviewed with Russell Dunford on Nov. 4 for their chance at attending Space Camp this coming summer. The students get the unique opportunity thanks to Dunford, who graduated from Meadow Bridge High School in 1983.

Dunford currently resides in Huntsville, Alabama and is a division chief at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. For the last six years, he has provided a $1,000 scholarship for chosen fifth-graders to attend Space Camp at the Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville.

Each year, fifth-graders at MBES write an essay on "Failure is not an option." Dunford and his committee review the essays. Applicants are interviewed through Zoom or Skype in November. Then, the finalists are chosen and usually announced in December. However, this year's announcement will occur on Nov. 19 during a special ceremony at the school.

Past winners who have attended Space Camp included Conner Mullins, Temmeria Nicholas, Jayce Neal, Emily Carothers, Jadon Butcher, Lilyan Hayes, Kaiden Sims, Kyndal Gilkeson and Weslee Kinder.

"We are anxious to announce the 2022 recipients of this scholarship," said a school representative.

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One of last year's Space Camp participants, Weslee Kinder, discussed his involvement after returning from Huntsville in late July.

Kinder is currently in sixth grade at Meadow Bridge High School.

"I loved it," Kinder said over the summer. There were "lots of fun things and activities and stuff like that."

An essay written at school earned him a chance to spend the week in Huntsville.

Russell Dunford, a Meadow Bridge High School graduate, lives and works in Huntsville and sponsors two students every year to go to Space Camp. Kyndal Gilkeson also went this past year.

There are normally representatives from foreign countries in attendance, but Covid-19 prevented that in 2021.

Kinder said he had fun during his time at Huntsville. And, he stayed busy and involved while learning various tools that will help him as he continues his education. "I got to see how astronauts train," he said. "I spoke to an astronaut."

Kinder said he and fellow campers also took part in activities such as G-Force and Moon Shot.

"And we got to learn about the Apollo program, Gemini and all that," he added. He also got to be involved in flight director activities and various simulations.

"I kind of do want to work for NASA," said Kinder, who also plays various sports in some of his time away from the classroom. "I'll probably have to go to college (to pursue that goal).

"I don't know if I want to be an astronaut, or just stay here (control room or flight director scenarios)."

He embraced the various activities in which he took part. "I was pretty comfortable with what I was doing. I'd recommend (classmates) going some time."

Kinder says he's wanted to work for NASA for "about a year." How did that interest get stoked? "I wanted a telescope and, when I got it, I looked at some of the planets and stuff and thought that was pretty cool," he explained. "I was like, hmm, maybe I should work for NASA."

Of recent citizen space travel, he says, "I think it's pretty awesome. Maybe that will lead someday to us ourselves maybe going up to the moon ... or Mars."

He said he met many new friends and brought home a stuffed animal, a flight suit, badges and a certificate.

— Steve Keenan

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