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Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News
A group of students sits at the controls of the Phoenix flight simulator at Central Elementary School.

PLEASANT GROVE — Without student volunteers, voyages into space from Central Elementary in Pleasant Grove would not be possible, says the director of the Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center.

"They're the lifeblood of the place," said Victor Williamson, who, 16 years ago, came up with the idea to create a space center where students and adults could go on simulated space adventures. "Without volunteers, we fold."

Nearly 200 volunteers, both male and female from elementary-school age to young adults, from all along the Wasatch Front come in at least once a month to help.

They run the operations from the control centers, conduct training for student crews, play intruders and pirates and doctors in sick bay. They assist with the overnight space camps and in the computer lab and do whatever it takes to see that voyagers learn, explore and have a good time doing so.

Bracken Funk, the 6-foot, 8-inch power forward for the Lone Peak High School basketball team when he isn't at the space center, for four years has been driving to the school from Alpine to be a combination stage manager, voyage director, equipment technician and actor.

"I was in the sixth grade. I'd been here three times and fell in love with the place," Funk said. "I decided it's OK to be a nerd.

"As sappy as it sounds, my favorite part is actually watching the kids get all excited when they do well," he said. "I plan on working here until I go on my (LDS) mission."

The space center runs five different kinds of voyages from trips in the shuttle craft to a full star ship. Each includes a mission assignment that comes with conflict, tough decisions to be made, sounds, visuals and surprises.

A successful mission requires teamwork and concentrated effort.

The teams are briefed on planetary power struggles and cloaking devices and space anomalies.

The overnight missions require that the pilots, engineers and navigators pay attention and stay on task from Friday night to Saturday afternoon.

"I love the overnighters," Funk said. "That's when you really get into it."

Samantha Foster, 12, is also a volunteer. Her job for the Phoenix mission is to "break" things from the control room. She flips a switch or touches a screen and the crew has a problem to solve.

Hayden Hunter, 11, has volunteered for the past six months.

"I work all over but probably my favorite thing is being an intruder," Hunter said. "They seriously get freaked out."

"I like doing all the stuff. I've done it all, " said Trent Blackman, 12. He's been a volunteer since November. "I don't know. I just really enjoy coming here."

Volunteers earn rewards for consistently donating their time and for keeping their grades up. Megan Warner, for instance, has her name on the 4,000-point plaque. That means she earned one point per hour worked and 50 points for every good report card.

"They need to keep their grades up. That's important," Williamson said. "They're required to come at least once a month for 2 1/2 hours. We have had more male volunteers than female but lately we've had more female applicants."

A volunteer doesn't have to be a "Star Trek" fan.

In fact, although many of the stories, icons and visuals incorporate "Star Trek" images, Williamson said it isn't a major factor anymore.

"The kids coming today have never seen 'Star Trek.' It's just stories, some good stories," he said.

What a volunteer does need is patience — usually the training period for a new crew is an hour — and an ability to adapt and role play, like Thatcher does as he briefs his Phoenix crew of six boys.

"You're going on a high-risk, priority mission. Don't get detected," he said. "If you screw up, the federation is gone."

Space by the numbers:

14,981 missions run as of March 2007

190,644 simulators, classes and planetarium visits as of March 2007

If you go

What: Space Camps for summer 2007

Where: Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center, 95 N. 400 East, Pleasant Grove

Cost: $155 for a three-day camp; $40 for an overnight camp; $125 for day camp

Phone: 785-8713

E-mail: [email protected]