McKenzie “Mack” Williams, a Marksville Elementary 6th grader, recently attended the Aviation Challenge “Space Camp” in Huntsville, Ala. The program shows students with an interest in aviation and space some real-world applications of the science and math they learn in school.

Local lad learns lessons of aviation at Space Camp

Program teaches how science, math are used in the ‘real world’

There was a time when almost every young child dreamed of walking on the moon or traveling by rocket to Mars. Others daydreamed like Snoopy, of being a famous fighter pilot ace.

The space program is still important even if it isn’t in the news as much as it once was. While air-to-air combat is different from the WWI days of the Red Baron and Eddie Rickenbacker, the nation will always need brave pilots to fight its foes in the skies.

Among this area’s newest dreamers is McKenzie “Mack” Williams of Marksville, who recently attended Aviation Challenge Mach I -- more simply known as “Space Camp” -- at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala.

Mack, 11, is a 6th grader at Marksville Elementary and the son of Todd Williams and Amanda Hoff.

“It was really cool,” Mack said. “It amazed me. Of course, I’m an 11-year-old boy, so you know I love airplanes.”

Mack said his favorite thing about the camp was making many new friends from all over the nation and even from foreign countries.

“I met a girl from China,” he said. “There were kids who came from all over.”

There was a good spirit of camaraderie among his squad members.

“Our squadron was called Javelin, because we were intended to fly straight through the competition,” Mack said.

The squadron patch was of a snake biting down into a fighter jet.

The week-long educational program promotes science, technology, engineering and math. It also provides participants with hands-on activities and missions-based lessons on teamwork, leadership and problem solving.

The program is designed for students with an interest in military aviation and the mechanics of flight.

Students learned principles of aviation and put their knowledge to the test in a variety of flight simulators.

Mack and his team assumed the role of fighter pilots, running control systems and scenario-based missions as well as training in water and land survival.

Mack and his crewmates graduated with honors at the end of the week.

“Todd went to Space Camp when he was about Mack’s age,” grandmother Eula Lemoine of Mamou said. “He enjoyed it so much. That’s why I paid for McKenzie to have that opportunity.”

Todd said his Space Camp was different from Mack’s.

“Mine was like the Space Shuttle with missions related to space exploration and things like that,” he said. “I really enjoyed it.

“Mack’s had more of a military feel about it,” Todd continued. “they were divided into squadrons and learned more about aviation and things like survival training if a helicopter crashes in the water.

“It was really cool,” he added.

It almost sounded like Dad had wished he could’ve traded places with his son.

“I think it would be cool to become a pilot,” Mack said. “My uncle, Chris Lemoine, was a fighter jet pilot and then a commercial pilot. He flies small planes now.”


Aviation Challenge began in 1990. It uses fighter pilot training techniques to show students real-world applications of the important STEM subjects they are taught in their school classrooms.

Students sleep in barracks designed to resemble military bays.

Among past graduates of Space Camp are European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Oristoforetti and NASA astronauts Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger, Dr. Kate Rubins and Dr. Serena Auñón-Chancellor.

Auñón-Chancellor is currently part of the crew of the International Space Station, launching in June and expected to return in December.

Children and teachers from all 50 states and 69 international locations have attended a Space Camp program.

While all 750,000 Space Camp program graduates have had the opportunity to soar with eagles, duel enemy aces or “go where few have gone before,” several have -- and Mack may be among the next generation of space explorers and aerial heroes to serve his country.


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