Astronaut training party

By Phil Plait | April 10, 2011 7:00 am

I don’t think it matters how good a job your parents did raising you, no matter how great and supportive and wonderful they were, you will still get a twinge of jealousy when you read about the birthday party this mom threw for her son. You have to read the whole thing to appreciate it.

As a taste (haha!) here is a picture of the table setting:

Yes, that planet the astronaut is standing on is actually the birthday cake, suspended above the table!

Someone keep an eye on that kid. I suspect in 20 years or so NASA will want to recruit him. If he’s not running the joint by then.

Tip o’ the spacesuit visor to Steve deGroof.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Geekery, NASA, Space

Comments (31)

  1. Chris L.

    More likely than not, he’ll be working for an outfit like Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, or Bigelow Aerospace.

  2. Grizzly

    Lots of detail there, loving detail. But did you notice that the games themselves were… simple? Our twins still remember their 8th when we did something similar but not quite so grand with a guided activity/scavenger hunt. I applaud this mom for instilling a sense of wonder while keeping things (for the kids) simple.

  3. Best cake ever!

    But no, he won’t be working for NASA, if he is lucky. All the cutting edge engineering is done by private companies. As for being an astronaut is concerned 1) I doubt NASA will even be training astronauts after the ISS deorbits, and 2) the vast majority of Astronauts are military pilots who by their own admission had never considered being astronauts as children.

  4. jick

    Well, I’m pretty sure she’s a very nice mother, and it must have been a very nice party, but as a father of two, I’m just relieved that she’s not in my neighborhood. She’s throwing her son’s friends’ moms and dads into an arms race… Now that you can’t afford to be that terrible mom who bought her son’s birthday cake from a bakery, what are you gonna do?

    Besides, shouldn’t five-year-old kids just eat a cake, go out, and play for themselves? Instead of playing “games” prepared by adults? They have plenty of time for that in kindergarten…

  5. Aadam Aziz Ansari

    A little late, if you look at the date of the post, but still fantastic. I am jealous of those kids.

  6. icewings


    Yeah, I wouldn’t want her in my neighborhood either. I just don’t have that kind of Supermom energy!

    Also, I was perturbed by the comments on the blog at what a great idea it was for a party for “little boys”. I left a comment there too (pending approval by the owner), that there are female astronauts now and this would be a fun party for any little kid.

  7. vince charles

    @ Krikkit:


    Burt Rutan, Elon Musk, and Robert Bigelow (i.e., “Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, or Bigelow Aerospace”) all got to space by obtaining technologies which NASA has already passed over. Specifically, SpaceShip One implemented a ’60’s engineering study using modern materials; the Merlin engine was taken from two or three Marshall Space Flight Center tech demonstrators; and Bigelow bought the IP rights to NASA’s TransHab lock, stock, and barrel.

    Although I’ll freely and repeatedly admit that electronics are being advanced by outside research (both private companies, and academic groups). Space just isn’t a big-enough market to outdraw terrestrial applications, so space gets the leftovers.

  8. BigBadSis

    Forget the kid! It’s the mom who should be hired! How creative. But I concur with others — glad she wasn’t in my crowd when my kids were young. I could never compete!

  9. We used to stuff like that when our kids were younger, and we had more time. (Though we didn’t go quite as far as these parents did. Sounds like everyone had a good time.) Except that we did Harry Potter themed birthday parties.

    The invitations were done like a letter from Hogwarts, and included a “secret password” (written in invisible ink, along with the “spell” required to read it) that you needed in order to get in. We had the Sorting Hat (with a baby monitor hidden inside it, so it could “talk”) divide everyone into two teams. You were given a bag of gold coins (pennies spray-painted) and had to “buy” your supplies. (Things for your goodie-bag, like magic wands, chocolate frogs, and the like.) The games included things like “pin the tail on Dudley”. Food included “pumpkin juice” (orange fruit punch, with the label replaced), along with a sample of “Muggle foods” (like pizza).

    Again, simple (for the kids) but still fun.

    We still get comments every now and then from parents of the other kids. Unfortunately, we don’t have time to do things like that anymore.

  10. josie

    I am about as green as those moon rocks.

    The closest thing to that we had in my neighborhood was a dad that made a “haunted trail” for halloween. All sorts of those sorts of simple props (crazy dude jumping out with a chain saw, ghosts hanging from trees etc) just done with lots of polish and drama.

    Kids really enjoy those sorts of things. It’s easier for them to let their imaginations loose when the adults participate and put in some effort too! :)

  11. Lucas

    You know what, Dr. Plait? I used to like you. I mean, I liked you a lot. I admired your intelligence, your wit, your way of engaging people.

    But then you linked this astronaut party.

    I did not know just how capable I was of envy. Or how deep and brilliantly incisive that bitter envy could run. And now you have made me aware.

    And that makes me irrationally unhappy with everything having to do with that birthday party.

    I hate you, Dr. Plait. I never even had *a* birthday party growing up, much less one so in line with my hobbyist interests.

  12. @ Vince:

    When I said Private Companies I also meant companies like Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, every company with a ‘dyne’ suffuix, etc. Yes the smaller private companies (which are somehow thought of as the only private companies, not just by you but most people I talk to about government v private space) are using old tech, they can’t afford large R&D projects yet. But the lucky engineers with the big budgets are ones working for companies rolling in military money, and only treat civilian space as a side project.

  13. Mary

    Thanks for the link, Phil. There are some greast ideas there. My daughter is always looking for ideas for birthdat parties. Although, if how busy they are, the thing to do these days i9s to take the kids to one of those placs that is set up for kids’ parties. There are some wonderful ones. Another good thing about that is there is not a big mess at home to0 clean up ast the end. Even if not using these for a party, I love some of the ideas and will keep them. Whenever we go to visit, the kids always expect Nana to have some fun activities to do.

  14. Cindy

    We didn’t do anything nearly as elaborate last year for my daughter’s birthday party. She wanted a “science” party so we did “experiments” with mentos and diet coke, separating the colors of magic markers using filter paper, and had red cabbage juice to test acid/base of various substances (vinegar, etc.). Unfortunately it was cloudy so I couldn’t do my part with prisms and sunbeams (but everyone got a prism in their goody bag). My husband and I were happy that our daughter wanted to have a science experiment party to show that science is cool (we’re both Ph.D. in sciences).

    We also had a store-bought cake. Spent all of the time preparing for the experiments.

  15. tudza

    They need to add a rocket ship piñata.

  16. Chemmomo

    It works for six kids. Not so much when you have to invite the entire kindergarten class.

  17. Rebecca

    Not only did I just throw a Space Party last weekend, but there weren’t any children invited. None of my friends have children, so I often throw the types of parties that are made for kids, because, why should they have all the fun!?

    We created a scale model of our solar system in my neighborhood (3000 feet from Sun to Pluto). Due to popular demand, we included Pluto, but we all watched Neil de Grasse Tyson’s Pluto Files to understand its new classification. We even broke open a space-man pinata full of Milky Ways, Starbursts, Pop Rocks, and I even splurged for Astronaut Ice Cream. I had disc one of Cosmos playing in the back ground during meals and we also sat down for an episode of The Universe on the Sun.

    If any of you are interested in created a scale model of our solar system that is walkable, start with an 8 inch bowling ball for the sun. Everything else is pins heads except for Jupiter (walnut), Saturn (acorn), Uranus and Neptune (coffee beans).

  18. Caroline

    The party looks great, but the food is problematic.

  19. bw

    This whole report, the content as much as the tone, makes me really uncomfortable; I can’t help thinking “Her poor kids!” There may be an element of competitiveness (does she want to outdo all the neighbours with the most perfect birthday party ever?), but that’s not what I find most disturbing. She is just pushing her kids so hard – not into a bad direction, but she is pushing them with truckloads of demonstrative motherly love. I realize she is trying to inspire her kids, but she comes across to me as a driven personality who is trying to put too much into her kids. Maybe I’m being very unfair.

  20. Teshi

    Whoa. While this is epic, I think it is a little over the top! However, I did have some amazing party games at my parties, but I had lots of siblings to help set them up and they were always the same.

    My two favourite birthday games, if people want to borrow them, are these:

    Spider Game –

    A giant spider has got loose and twisted web around furniture: set out a patch of chairs and tables, measure out string to be the same length (don’t make it to long!) for each kid, tie one end of each bit of string somewhere on the furniture and wind the string around and over the furniture so there’s a massive ‘web’ of string among the chairs. Let the loose end of the string end up on the outside of the web so it’s accessible and tie it to a pencil.

    At the party, eveyone must follow their string, winding it around a pencil, until they get to the end. At the beginning, they must climb over and under each other’s (or perhaps their own) string. The first person to reach the end of their string wins.

    Smartie Game –

    From a simpler time. Put out plates in a row along the ground and a smartie (m&m for Americans) on each plate. The idea is to go along and vacuum up each smartie with your mouth. Time each person and wipe and reset the plates each time. Person with the shortest time wins.

  21. IsobelA

    That is one seriously creative Mum – he’s not going to forget a party like that for a while!

  22. Zucchi

    Speaking of celebrating a date — 50 years ago, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space, orbiting the Earth in Vostok 1. Yea!

  23. chris j.

    NASA won’t have this kid; he’ll be an assistant middle manager at his dad’s bank, or a paralegal at his mom’s law firm. this party has all the hallmarks of upper middle class parents micromanaging their kids’ lives.

  24. Cindy:

    She wanted a “science” party so we did “experiments” with mentos and diet coke, separating the colors of magic markers using filter paper, and had red cabbage juice to test acid/base of various substances (vinegar, etc.)

    Our older daughter (now 11) has asked for “mad scientist” parties the past few years. Of course, we had the aforementioned Diet Cola and Mentos. We also had things such as the liquid from boiled red cabbage (which is blue), plus lemon juice (yellow), and then mix blue and yellow to get red. Then we usually just let the kids loose with the remaining things — vinegar, baking soda, and so on — and experiment until the supplies run out. Fortunately, the weather is usually good enough to do this outside, since it’s rather messy, and we haven’t killed the lawn yet.

    Now, maybe someone here can help me out… Many years ago, I saw a video where two clear liquids were mixed, by pouring them back and forth between two jars. Then, several seconds after the mixing was started, the entire thing (including the liquid in mid-pour) would change color all at once. I’ve looked all over, and can’t find out what those liquids were made of.

  25. @bw and some others above

    Oh, lighten up! It’s just a birthday party! So the mom went overboard in the construction department; is that a crime these days? I saw lots of fun and creativity done relatively cheaply–much better than renting out the local entertainment centre/Chuck-E-Cheese or hiring entertainers for mucho $$. And I bet the guests at the party had a ball.

    Our family (as does our neighbourhood) tends to go overboard on Halloween–we start costume-making for our son months in advance (samples on our site). Ego boost for the parents? Okay, sure. Fun for the kids? Definitely. But, please, try not to read too much into it, that OMG the parents must be competitive harpies trying to outdo everyone else… I guarantee you, we’re pretty chill the rest of the year.

  26. Matt B.

    The Mars Mud should have been butterscotch.
    I would really love to know how they suspended the cake (and cut it without creating a mess).

  27. nancyem

    Wow, I certainly didn’t expect so much criticism here… Yes this mom went crazy, but if you look at the rest of her blog, this is what she does. I see a link to an Etsy site, sounds like she is a wonderfully crafty person. Doesn’t sound like she’s trying to be competitive and shame us all, or drive a truck of motherly love over her children. And it’s a BIRTHDAY PARTY, let the kids have jello, sheesh!

  28. Lorne

    I was happy when I got a cake that was shaped like a rocket ship when I was that age.

  29. Such negativity! I wanted to say what @BigBadSis said (“forget the kid – the Mom should be working for NASA”), but now I’m all distracted by the mean nitpicking (the “not the right technology”, “glad she’s not in my neighbourhood” etc). She made a fun themed party for her kid. Seemed pretty creatie to me, and she obviously loved doing it. End of story.

    Great post Phil. :)

  30. Scott Daris

    I have the moon landing birthday of July 20th! But it was my 3rd birthday that year, 1969. I did, however, have a rocket ship on my cake with my older brother ripping it off as soon as I blew out the candles. As for @Lucas above, I’m sorry you never had a birthday party. Just not right. Happy Future Birthdays.

  31. Matt B.

    Holy Halea(mumble), Scott Daris, you’re exactly the same age as my brother!


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