Joe Perry, accompanied by his Lego astronaut, took channeling his inner 12-year-old seriously
PALMYRA — To say Joe Perry has his head in the clouds is an understatement.
The Palmyra-Macedon Central School District science teacher is still flying high from his five-day experience at Space Camp, where he accepted an invitation to channel his inner 12-year-old, a mission accomplished long before he even got to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
Perry was one of 224 teachers from 35 countries and 45 states to receive a scholarship to the annual Honeywell Educators at Space Academy program. Perry and the others participated in several science, technology, engineering and math-inspired activities in June.
“I'm truly humbled by the fact I was just able to be there,” Perry said. “I loved it. How can you not be excited about putting on a flight suit? I have an unbridled enthusiasm about this stuff.”
Perry, who plans to wear his Honeywell flight suit at Pal-Mac's annual dress-up day for the next 20 years, took with him a little Lego astronaut — like the one he had when he was a kid. The little astronaut participated in many of the activities, became his 14-member team's mascot and was the focus of many selfies.
“I got the first Lego Space Shuttle when I was like 12 years old,” he said. “That was the whole solid rocket boosters and everything. I still had it in perfect condition and I got it out of the Ziploc bag from the plastic tub in my garage and I put it in my luggage and brought it down to Space Camp. You have to understand short, Caucasian guys excited about Space Camp in their mid-40s are a dime a dozen. It's nothing they haven't seen before. The director of the Space Camp, he said, 'You just went to warp factor 10 on the geek scale.'”
Little Lego guy can be seen peaking out of the container his team used to protect an egg dropped from a two-story building.
“We won that competition,” Perry said, talking about the various experiences, including spinning in the multi-axis trainer while playing “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record),” by the British group Dead or Alive; building rockets; and moving around in an anti-gravity chair, also known as a moon chair with 1/6th gravity, while playing the Police's “Walking on the Moon.”
“The multi-directional simulator was incredible,” he said. “I had been looking for that for a ton of time. I finally got to do the moon chair. I've been wanting to do that for a ton of time. You get to feel what it's like to be walking on the moon. It's cool. I tried to do it slow to savor my time.”
They also got to work with remote-controlled droids, much like BB-8 from the “Star Wars” franchise, with phone applications schools can purchase for about $100, according to Perry.
A cool thing about making the rockets, he said, was soldering in a Raspberry Pi computer with little microprocessors they could take back to a computer to download all the science data from the flight.
“We do the same rockets here at Pal-Mac Middle School in seventh grade, but the fact that we were able to drop the microprocessors in there to get the data, that kicked it up a notch," he said. "That was cool.”
Quite the cut-up, Perry discovered a red-and-white shirt in the gift shop on his second day, borrowed a pair of large-rimmed glasses from a suitemate and posed as Waldo from “Where's Waldo” for the group picture under the Pathfinder space shuttle.
“Of course, my wife says, 'Doesn't that defeat the point of being Waldo because of the fact you can get picked out right away?'” he said. “I go, 'Yes, but it's red and white, it's Honeywell.”
The red and white colors are also Pal-Mac's.
Honeywell is a Fortune 100 software-industrial company. Its Hometown Solutions corporate citizenship initiative and USSRC created the Honeywell Educators at Space Academy program in 2004 to inspire middle school science and math teachers to continue their education and promote STEM in their classrooms.
While at Space Camp, teachers attend 45 hours of immersive classroom and laboratory instruction focused on science, space exploration and leadership skills development. In addition to learning new instructional exercises, including coding challenges, the teachers build a network of peers from around the world to continue collaborating and developing their STEM education goals.
Perry first applied in 2016, but was turned down. A Fairport colleague, Andrea Costanza, pointed out the program was designed for middle school teachers and he had focused his application on his high school programs. So, he reapplied, emphasizing his work with his accelerated eighth-grade class, and got accepted.
“I've wanted to go to Space Camp since I was watching 'Double Dare' when I was 10 to 12 years old,” he said, referring to a recently revived 1980s TV game show on Nickelodean that gave out Space Camp trips as a grand prize.
As much as he loves space and NASA, Perry knew his color blindness and other factors would prevent him from becoming an astronaut, but it could not stop him from being an astronomer.
On the last day, Perry brought out his Lego Space Shuttle that was admired by many of his teammates and trainers and became his table's centerpiece at the graduation ceremony.
The Space Camp program also included packets of information, a tremendous amount of material he was able to bring home, along with links to access more, to share with his students and colleagues and work into his various science classes, including a Gemini astronomy program in conjunction with Finger Lakes Community College.
Noting Superintendent Robert Ike has been very supportive, he wants to start a program in western Wayne County to take kids 16 and older to Space Camp every three years, beginning in winter 2020. The program includes a college credit in physics and Perry estimates it would cost less than the National Parks tour he took 10 students on this past school year at about $1,800 each.
Space Camp also provides an international experience. Perry said teams are mixed with half speaking fluent English, so they had to work through language barriers to solve the various program challenges, something else he believes would be beneficial for his students.
“In the off time, they bring in a lot of schools from China, Saudi Arabia and the Middle East,” he said. “I think that would be a tremendous experience for any kid to be surrounded by people who were speaking Mandarin and Arabic and having to realize, yes, our trainers are speaking English, but I have to be a conveyor of information and work around the problem. That might be worth more than the college credit."
He would like to take the first group before his daughter Elizabeth graduates, but it's probably not likely. Perry and his wife of 18 years, Lisa, also have two other children, Katie and Ricky, in grades 8 and 6, respectively, who will probably get the opportunity that eluded Perry in his youth.