Springboard to Space

Jan 2, 2014

Credit Miriam Kramer/SPACE.com

Parents and grandparents may anguish over the amount of time kids spend playing video games or watching videos on YouTube, but a University of Virginia student offers reassurance. 

21-year-old Patrick Carney decided to take some time off from college to focus on YouTube.  It’s not the kind of news that would thrill many parents, but Carney had a plan.  He launched one of the fastest growing YouTube channels, devoted to a popular video game called Clash of Clans.

He now has 325,000 subscribers and a stable of big name advertisers, but the program served as a springboard for something even more amazing.  Carney entered a contest to attend space camp and compete for a chance to ride a small, private shuttle, 62 miles above the Earth.

To attend the camp, in early December, he needed to win votes online – so he turned to his YouTube fans and to other social media, campaigning on line.

At the Kennedy Space Center, he joined 107 kids from around the world, taking part in the kind of training astronauts do before missions – riding a G-force simulator and flying stunts with a prop plane pilot.

Credit Miriam Kramer/SPACE.com

The contest winners also met astronaut Buzz Aldrin and watched a rocket launch.

They raced across an obstacle course, scaled a tall rock tower and did exercises to test teamwork, but a jumbo jet flight to simulate zero gravity had to be scrapped when the plane sucked a bird into its engine beforehand.  During the four-day program, judges observed these young space enthusiasts, and as camp came to an end, 23 students were selected to ride the XCOR-Lynx space shuttle in 2015. 

The shock was replaced by awe when all 23 winners boarded the modified 727, which was again certified airworthy.  It flew to 24,000 feet – then descended rapidly, to create a weightless environment.

Space Expedition Corporation is selling seats on its shuttle for 2015, but businessman Carney couldn’t afford a ticket.

That said, he sees the trip as a priceless opportunity – one he earned by competing aggressively with more than a million people who entered the contest.