North Tama students reach for the stars

North Tama High School rising freshman Johnathan Cochran (left) and Nathan Reese (right) pictured in their space flight suits during the weeklong Space Academy camp they attended this past July in Huntsville, Alabama on the grounds of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. Submitted photo.

Two North Tama area youth are reaching for the stars in more ways than one.

Johnathan Cochran, 14, of Traer and Nathan Reese, 14, of Clutier spent a week this past July on the grounds of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama attending Space Academy.

Space Academy is a weeklong educational program that promotes “science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), while training students with hands-on activities and missions based on teamwork, leadership and problem solving,” according to a recent press release.

Cochran previously attended Space Academy on a scholarship in August 2019 as a rising 7th grader. At that time, former North Tama Elementary School Teacher/STEM Coordinator Lisa Chizek was facilitating a scholarship program using Penny War funds to send two students to the camp.

Following a year off due to the pandemic and the temporary demise of the local scholarship program due to Chizek’s resignation, Cochran decided to hitch his own wagon to the stars and raise the funds himself — he asked his best friend Reese to be part of his efforts.

Jonathan Cochran displays his blue Space Academy flight suit with a Team Deimos patch. Cochran and fellow North Tama High School rising freshman classmate Nathan Reese spent a week this past July at Space Academy camp in Huntsville, Alabama as part of Team Deimos. Photo by Ruby F. Bodeker.

“Nathan [Reese] is my best friend. After I went in 2019, I was like, hey, you want to go with me? It would be really fun,” Cochran said.

With the help of Cochran’s grandfather Marvin Boldt and grandmother Karlene Cochran, the rising 9th graders made it happen.

“My grandpa [Marvin Boldt] runs the auction. I sold popcorn [made by Karlene Cochran] to fundraise some money.”

They also received some financial help from Erhardt Motorsports with a can drive.

The week they spent at camp reaffirmed for both their love of everything STEM and their fascination with space.

“You learn so much,” Cochran said. “You have to work with others on your team. It makes you feel dependent and independent at the same time.”

“Since going to camp, I am definitely more interested in space,” Reese said. “The best part of camp was solving the simulated missions. They were really fun and interesting and made you think.”

The best friends were assigned to the same team while at Space Academy — Team Deimos — but had different experiences during the simulated missions.

“We had two separate missions during the week. The first one was a made-up mission … about Mars. It was all about landing on Mars. Both of us were in Mission Control,” Cochran said.

Both said being part of Mission Control was interesting, but what they really wanted was to be on the space station — something Reese got to experience directly during the second simulated mission as an engineering specialist, a role that put him both inside and outside the replica space station.

“I liked being an engineering specialist — I got to fix heat tiles [on a space walk].”

Cochran also found the second mission to be more interesting.

“I liked the second mission best because I got to be commander,” Cochran explained. “We had to land the shuttle on the runway. Launch, go to [the International Space Station], open payload doors, and come back.”

During the week, teams competed against each other for points. Team Deimos consistently scored high and outright won a space trivia competition as well as a game called Why Space?.

“They gave you a clue with a picture. One of them was a photo of a programmable oven with [the phrase] ‘Never burn anything again’. NASA invented the first programmable oven,” Cochran said.

“Also digestible [sic] toothpaste,” Reese added.

By the end of the week, Team Deimos had earned enough points to win the Commander’s Cup, earning both Cochran and Reese a badge for their blue flight suits.

Back in Iowa now, Cochran and Reese are still in communication with their fellow Space Academy teammates who are from all over the United States. They have a Team Deimos text thread with more than 3,000 messages.

Asked what they talk about with their fellow space camp friends — going to Mars? Jeff Bezos’ recent space flight? Building the next space station?

“Just normal kid stuff,” Cochran said. “I was off my phone for a couple hours and came back to 760 messages.”

But would they both like to go to Mars someday if they could? Cochran and Reese looked at each other and nodded.

Whether it’s rural Iowa or Huntsville, Alabama, thanks to Space Academy, reaching for the stars no longer seems so out of reach.