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Local Boy Reaches for the Stars

Aug 01, 2017 12:32AM ● By Elena Hutslar

Space Camp graduate Ethan Portnoff

Local Boy Reaches for the Stars

Ethan Portnoff Graduates from Renowned Space Camp


Pleasant Hill student Ethan Portnoff recently attended Space Camp at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center’s Official Visitor Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The week-long educational program promotes science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) while training students and adults in hands-on activities and missions based on teamwork, leadership, and problem solving.


The Space Camp program is an overnight camp designed for trainees, aged 9 – 18, who have an interest in space exploration. Portnoff spent the week training with a team that flew a simulated space mission to Mars. Each team member had specific duties and learned to do their part and trust each other over the course of the week. Ethan was the payload engineer and ensured the captain had properly deployed the switches. They also got to go into the Zero G "MAT" simulator, a new $350,000 machine from NASA. The crew participated in experiments and successfully completed an extra-vehicular activity (EVA), or spacewalk, and returned to earth in time to graduate with honors.


Space Camp operates year-round and uses astronaut training techniques to engage trainees in real-world applications of STEM subjects. Trainees sleep in quarters designed to resemble the International Space Station and train in NASA-inspired simulators. Last year, children and teachers from all 50 states and 69 international locations attended Space Camp. Ethan’s group of 15 students came from six different states, along with two boys from Singapore and Vietnam.


Three different camp offerings include Space Camp, with a mission to Mars; Aviation Camp, Ethan’s choice for next summer; and Robotics Camp, which is for 13 to 18 year olds and involves advanced robotics engineering in large pools that simulate space missions. More than 750,000 trainees have graduated from Space Camp since its inception in 1982, including STS-131 astronaut Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger, European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, and NASA Expedition 48 astronaut Dr. Kate Rubins. Ethan's graduation speech was given by Astronaut Clayton Anderson, who spent a year and a half on the International Space Station. Three of the last female astronauts from the United States attended this space camp as kids: Christina Koch, Nicole Mann, and Anne McClain.


If you’re interested in training like an astronaut does, visit or call 1-800-637-7223.