The Honeywell Leadership Challenge Academy

From the 15th to 20th October, I attended the Honeywell Leadership Challenge Academy at the U.S. Space and Rocket Centre in Huntsville, Alabama, a course designed to allow students to experience real-world, hands-on activities in aerospace, astronautics, engineering, computing, and other STEM-based activities while also developing our leadership skills.

The programme was open to student applications from twenty-five countries and twenty-five U.S. states. After a long wait, I was delighted to find out that I had been selected as one of six students from the UK.  On arrival, we were split into teams that included students from all over the world.  For one week, the teams would work together to compete against the other teams.  

During the week, I experienced many different simulators, the highlight of which was the multi-axis trainer that is designed to train astronauts to gain control over a spacecraft that has gone into an uncontrolled spin.  We also experienced what it would be like to go on a moonwalk using a 1/6 chair, that allows you to feel only a sixth of your weight – and surprisingly, it was a lot harder than it looked! We also experienced G force in a G force accelerator that is used to train astronauts by simulating triple the normal force of gravity on the body. It was a thrilling and exciting experience and although quite disorientating, it didn't stop my team going on it four times!

Another highlight of my trip was meeting Robert ‘Hoot’ Gibson, a former naval officer, test pilot, Aeronautical engineer and a retired NASA astronaut!  We learnt about his time in the military, his work with NASA and his five trips to space, which included his experience on the Challenger, the Orbiter Columbia and Endeavor. He spoke about the challenges in his career and how he overcame them.  He also discussed how he developed his leadership skills during this time, which lead him to command four of his five missions. It was an inspirational talk and I really enjoyed hearing about his experiences.

During the week, we learnt and practised for various missions, developing skills required to drop missiles and dog fighting, which were useful when we were tasked with bombing four sites and defending our team against an enemy aircraft.  In a mission control room, our task was to ensure that our teammates who were in a shuttle simulator took off from Earth, completed a mission on the ‘Moon’ and landed back home safely. Everyone had a designated role in the control room, and mine was 'Flight Director', allowing me the opportunity to put my leadership skills to the test. My favourite part of the space mission was doing the iconic T minus 10 countdown before launch.


As part of our final mission in an incident command room, we were given a real-life emergency – a hurricane swept across Huntsville - and we had to command a search and rescue effort, deal with any casualties and finish with a press report on how we handled the situation. It put into perspective how much pressure the emergency services work under and taught us how to be clear in our communication and adapt to a changing situation.

By the end of the week, I had learnt so much more about space, space exploration and the roles of the vast network of people behind the scenes, working to get new shuttles and satellites out of our atmosphere.  As I would like to pursue my studies in this field, it was a dream come true to be able to speak to astronauts and NASA scientists.  One of the best things about the trip was the friendships developed with so many from around the world. It was a truly inspiring and eye-opening experience and I hope that my experience inspires other Kendrick students to find what interests them and pursue their passions.  

Samragee – Year 12