Fort Campbell High School sophomore Xavior Hoover has been a part of the Fort Campbell community for 11 years. but that doesn’t mean he’s a stranger to travel – especially after completing a simulated mission to Mars over the summer.
Xavior gained that opportunity at Advanced Space Academy at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, Alabama, graduating from a weeklong program designed for students passionate about space exploration. The curriculum emphasizes hands-on activities and missions that require teamwork, leadership and problem-solving skills.
“I was actually supposed to go in 2020, but then COVID-19 hit so they delayed it a year,” he said. “That was disappointing, but I just had to deal with it, and finally being there felt amazing. It was so fun, and completely worth the wait.”
Although not typical, having spent his entire school career in the Fort Campbell school system has provided Xavier with support and a great foundation that sparked his passion.
“We could go on and on about how much Fort Campbell’s schools have done for us, but I think the most important thing to us is the stability that we’ve been fortunate enough to have,” Xavior’s father, Sgt. 1st Class Travis Hoover, 101st Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). “The counselors, we feel, give that extra effort and care to him.”
Xavior’s love of astronomy comes from learning about the ancient Greeks and Romans, who studied star patterns to drew constellations representing their gods. So it was only a matter of time before he made the trip to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. The facility uses astronaut training techniques and environments to engage students, from simulators using NASA’s technology to sleeping quarters modeled after the International Space Station.
“There’s a lot of hands-on activity too, like a computer where you could actually drive a rover,” he said. “We had an activity where you had to check the weather and make calculations and working with a botanist you had to actually grow your own plant and see results within a week.”
Xavior worked as part of a team with 11 students to overcome various challenges, and the experience allowed him to connect with students from across the country.
“He created a lot of bonds with some of the other crew members that he was with, to the extent that they’re going again this coming year,” said Xavior’s mother Angel Hoover. “He does Boy Scouts, so he does meet kids from other areas but it’s all Middle Tennessee. Now he’s branched out and he’s got friends states and states away, so I think it’s a big opportunity for him to get something other than military life.”
Xavior’s role on the team primarily fell under mission control, which meant he was responsible for commanding, monitoring and planning operations from the ground.
“I’m actually too tall to be an astronaut,” said Xavior, who stands 6 feet 2 inches. “We were at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center Museum, and I was reading something that said in order to be an astronaut you had to be no taller than 5 feet 11 inches...so I went into the shuttle they actually used for an Apollo mission and I was too tall – my head rose up over the seat.”
Fortunately, his interest in neurology and psychology made him a perfect fit for mission control. Xavior’s ultimate career goal is to work as a psychologist and help astronauts through any mental issues as they conduct their missions.
“There’ve only been about four or five people who have done that job, but without them I’m pretty sure some astronauts would have lost their minds,” he said. “One of the tests to become an astronaut is that you just sit in a room for a couple hours, and a lot of people can’t do it. When they’re actually put in a situation where they have to just sit there and all they have is communications, I feel like I’d be able to talk them through it and help them.”
Graduating from Advanced Space Academy helped set Xavior up for success in that role, providing him with practical experience and college credit.
“We’re extremely proud of him,” Travis said. “I think that Space Camp has shown him another facet of science and given him a unique opportunity because of the flight simulator and all the other things he was able to do out there that you can’t really experience anywhere else.”
While learning the ins and outs of mission control, Xavior also took on new activities like scuba diving for the first time, diagnosing and treating a patient and navigating smaller team-based exercises.
“Definitely the greatest challenges were knowing what to do, when to do it, communication and teamwork,” he said. “There’s something called Area 51 at Space Camp where you go outside and do all these team challenges, and we split our team into two groups. With my half of the team, it was hard at first but we struggled through it and we succeeded. It’s really a learning experience getting to know teamwork, communication and all that stuff.”