Every day during this summer’s weeklong Space Adventure Camp at Gheens Science Hall and Rauch Planetarium, Olivia Belicove arrived wearing space-themed clothing, much of it sewed by her mother.
Although only 6 years old and getting ready to enter first grade at St. Mary of the Knobs Catholic school in Floyds Knobs, Indiana, Olivia was given special permission to attend the camp that is designed for rising 2nd to 4th graders. That is because despite her young age, Olivia is already so passionate about becoming an astronaut that she is learning to speak Russian so she can communicate on the International Space Station and plays soccer and field hockey to ensure she will have the necessary physical stamina.
The Belicove family, transplants to New Albany, Indiana, from Rochester, New York, discovered Gheens Science Hall and Rauch Planetarium soon after moving to the area. Olivia had been enamored with all things space since she was just 4 years old and watched the “Ready Jet Go!” PBS Kids show that introduces children aged 3 to 8 to space, earth science and technology.
Olivia became a frequent GSH&RP visitor, using money she received at Christmas to buy a family membership. When Olivia went to the Women’s History Month keynote presentation at the planetarium in March, she met the speaker, Sophia Mitchell, a NASA aerospace engineer and Louisville native. Sophia spent a great deal of time talking with Olivia, encouraging her to pursue her dreams. She gave Olivia her email address in order to stay in touch.
Olivia is using the children’s book “Astronaut’s Handbook” to plot her course. Rather than cartoons, she prefers to watch major space events on television such as NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson making her record-breaking spacewalk or the SpaceX Dragon docking with the ISS in the wee hours of the morning. When the family asked Olivia where she wanted to go on vacation this year, rather than opting for Disney World, she chose the Kennedy Space Center, where she got to meet astronauts and watch lots of space videos.
During camp this summer, Olivia bonded with camp leader and planetarium educator Brenna Ausbrooks, who has her bachelor of science degree in physics with an emphasis in astrophysics, a master of arts degree in teaching in high school physics and is working on her doctorate in curriculum development.
“Next summer cannot come soon enough for Olivia to go to camp again,” said Olivia’s mom, Jamie.
The author is Paula McGuffey, assistant director of GSH&RP.