Nicolas Ouellette spent a good chunk of his summer launching rockets, learning to scuba dive, and chatting, via Skype, with a Canadian astronaut.
Pretty much exactly the way 15-year-old Ouellette, a Grade 10 student at Walnut Grove Secondary School, had planned it to be.
Ouellette took part in a national Royal Canadian Air Cadets (RCAC) scholarship program that included 60 cadets from across Canada.
On June 30 he flew with other cadets from around B.C. to Montreal.
Upon arrival, Ouellette took a half hour bus ride to St. Jean, Que. where he studied advanced aerospace for six weeks at the RCAC Eastern Region Gliding School.
The course started on Canada Day (July 1) and ended on his birthday, Aug. 11.
The program is offered at no cost to cadets.
“I don’t regret it at all,” Ouellette said, when asked why he chose to take a course in Quebec rather than chilling in his hometown. “Cadets understand that people choose to go to their courses over the summer, rather than staying at home and relaxing. They try to make it not like school, but like a different experience that you can enjoy more.”
To get accepted into the program Ouellette had to go through a rigorous recruitment process:
In November 2012 Ouellette applied for the program and was endorsed by his 746 Lightening Hawk (Langley) Squadron Commanding Office, Major Sean Kelly.
In January he was interviewed by a panel of one cadet officer and two civilians. Topics included current affairs, Canadian military deployments, rocketry, space exploration, government structure, and the Air Cadet League of Canada.
Then, in April, Ouellette received the good news: he was accepted into the course.
Rewind to the winter of 2012, and Ouellette contemplated tackling a summer course, but hadn’t mapped out which one.
“I saw this as one of the many scholarship courses for me to try out for, so I had to try it, not knowing a lot about it, and I ended up having a lot of fun,” he said.
In St. Jean, Ouellette studied on, and was submerged below, Terra firma.
He trained in the fundamentals of aerospace science through developing knowledge and skills relevant to the aerospace industry, within the format of a simulated space mission project.
The 60 cadets were divided into three “agencies” of 20 cadets each.
Ouellette’s agency, the ISIS Agency, won the Marc Garneau Trophy for the top agency practical phase of the operation Emundet project (the operation Emundet project was to design a vehicle that would orbit Earth to collect space debris).
He launched many different types of rockets, starting with water bottle rockets. He built small 12” alpha rockets, then graduated to the mid-size three-to-five-foot tall rockets that fly between 1,000 and 3,000 feet high.
Ouellette also took part in a robotics competition using obstacle and coordination courses.
To simulate living and working in space, Ouellette learned how to scuba dive and went on both daylight and dark dives where he put together a pipe puzzle to simulate a solar panel array; did a tile puzzle with buoyant objects to simulate items floating away in space; and used a satellite dish/computer array, to put together parts of a computer and use tools to change the angle of the dish.
He admitted it was a “little bit odd” initially to get used to the scuba diving apparatus but ended up thoroughly enjoyed the experience, calling it the highlight of the course.
“They ended up picking me to do the night dive, in the darkness,” Ouellette said.
Ouellette also learned about rockets and their anatomy, satellites, GPS systems, materials used in space, suppliers, astronomy, physics, robots, gravity, and how to teach classes on aerospace.
He was taken on a tour of the Canadian Space Agency – his favorite part was seeing full size models of the various satellites, Canadarm and Dextre (robot handyman) and visiting the Rover testing grounds.
Ouellette also participated in a group discussion with Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen, who was on Skype from Houston, Texas.
During the course, cadets earned their standard first aid certification and cadet fitness assessment.
At the end, Ouellette was presented with the Top Cadet – ISIS Agency award for his contributions and leadership.
“Officer Cadet Thavarajah reported that Nicolas exceeded the performance objective for instructional technique on an aerospace subject and exceeded the standards on the theoretical assessment,” his mom Glenda noted.
Highlights for Ouellette during the experience included learning to dive to simulate weightlessness in space, the camaraderie of cadets in the program, and forging new friendships.
He said he came away from the course with a new appreciation of aerospace technology.
“I learned about all the stuff they have to go through and how difficult it is to get where they are,” he said.
Glenda said it was an honour for her son to represent his 746 Lightening Hawk Squadron at this program.
“As a parent, I am most appreciative of the learning and leadership opportunities provided to youth through the cadet program,” she said. “We are most appreciative of the Air Cadet League, the department of National Defence, the local community businesses, and the 746 Sponsoring Committee that make this program a success.”
Nicolas said he would like to return next year, with a different role.
“I was given a high recommendation to return as a staff cadet by my course commanding officer,” he said. “Staff cadets are paid. That would be good.”
@ Copyright 2013