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Whether a budding astronaut exists within your family or you have adventurous kids or grandkids, Space Camp Alabama provides a unique experience for all. Education in this fun atmosphere feels more like playtime than science, technology, engineering and mathematics classes. Here’s everything you need to know about Space Camp Alabama.
In 1945, Dr. Wernher Von Braun and his team of elite rocket scientists and engineers arrived in Huntsville, Alabama from Germany and began the process of changing Huntsville from an obscure town known for its cotton fields to a city with its focus on space and putting a man on the moon. Alabama’s role in space exploration was born. Along the way, he and fellow team members spearheaded efforts to bring culture, top-notch education, and the arts to Huntsville through a university, a symphony, a planetarium, a space center, and German restaurants. One of his visions included a Space Camp to ignite the imaginations of children and young people toward space exploration, he laid the groundwork for it that came to fruition by dedicated organizers after he died.
Famous Past Space Campers
Space Camp welcomed its first attendees in 1982. Since then, program graduates total more than 900,000. Famous Space Camp alumni include Chelsea Clinton and Amy Carter, daughters of U.S. Presidents, Karenna Gore, daughter of a Vice President, actress Charlize Theron, and the “Tremendous 12,” graduates who have made it into space.
What Do Campers Do When They Go To Space Camp
During days at Space Camp, trainees, as they are called, participate in numerous STEM projects – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – such as constructing a launching a model rocket, designing a future Martian colony, learning about life on the International Space Station, discovering the role of mission control, and experiencing astronaut training devices such as the 1/6 Gravity Chair, Five Degrees of Freedom flight simulator, and the Multi-Axis Trainer. Trainers who are nervous about the devices are welcome to watch, but they are designed to simulate the motion without producing nausea or discomfort. They do team-building and communication activities, watch a movie in the National Geographic Theater, and take part in camp-wide Challenge Nights. They sleep in pods on bunk beds with very limited storage space for personal belongings (to imitate cramped conditions on space flights) and eat great meals, which are NOT like those consumed in space.
What Do Space Campers Eat
I interviewed several Space Camp graduates for this story. Brothers Aidan and Anselm Christopher from California attended Aviation Challenge in the summer of 2021. About the food, Anselm said, “All the food was amazing. There was no food I didn’t like! Breakfast was great! They had eggs, waffles, bacon, sausage, tater tots, biscuits & gravy.”
Aidan added, “The food was way better than I expected. Sometimes they even had pizza!” Laura Newman and her mom from Hartselle, Alabama, attended Family Space Camp a couple of years ago. They also remember the food positively, saying “The food was very good at space camp and was available in a self-serve style. Breakfast included hot items such as oatmeal, biscuits, gravy, bacon and sausage, along with pre-packaged items like cereal and yogurt. For both lunch and dinner, a salad bar was available along with hot entrees and sandwiches. Desserts and ice cream were also available.”
What Do Space Campers Wear
Because Space Camp is packed with a wide variety of activities, comfortable clothing specifically designed for harnesses, ropes courses, and water experiences are recommended. Shorts that cover the upper thigh, one-piece bathing suits for females, shorts over bathing suits for both genders, and closed-toed shoes are examples. Loose-fitting t-shirts are highly recommended.
Flight suits and clothing packages (that include t-shirts, sweatshirts, sweatpants, and a backpack) are available as optional purchases.
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What Are Favorite Camper Activities
During free time, trainees explore the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and the impressive Davidson Center where a Saturn V rocket is on display, adjacent to camp and ride the outdoor rides. Anselm described the G-Force like this: “I went on G-force. In that one, you stand against a wall of foam pads, buckled in in a circular room. It begins spinning really fast. Slowly the centripetal force pushes everyone up so that their feet are no longer touching the ground. Once it started, people started singing ‘You spin me right round, baby right-round.’ It was fun.”
When I asked about their favorite parts of the camp experience, Anselm said, “”My favorite part was the simulators and Top Gun. Top Gun was the tournament for the airplane simulators where we did 1 v. 1 dogfights.”
Aidan said, “My favorite part was patrolling in the woods. We had assignments with unique jobs, like patrol leader, recon leader, security, assistants, etc. We went patrolling in the woods. Sometimes we had to retrieve something from far away. Sometimes the mission is that we had to save a pilot. There were a bunch of enemies, that if they spot us, we were out. In order to ‘neutralize the threat’ we had to come up behind them and tap them on the shoulder. Then we freed our friends who were captured. We had different paths to choose for each recon. It was really cool.” He added that he’d suggest to future Aviation Challenge participants to bring a lot of survival gear and camo. “It isn’t required but could make it even more fun.”
Do All Campers Want To Be Astronauts?
Many attendees have dreams of future space travel and have grown up watching space shuttle launches. Some hope to be pilots or aerospace engineers, but most just love science, experiments, and challenges.
What Advice Do Former Campers Have For Future Campers?
The Space Camp website, www.spacecamp.com provides exceptionally thorough and helpful information for those considering attending. Additional information assists those who have made their reservations and are planning and packing.
Beth Newman, who attended with her daughter, adds these words of advice, “Do not over-dress! Be comfortable! You will walk a lot so comfortable shoes are a must. Be prepared for rain with a small umbrella or jacket. Space camp activities are scattered throughout several buildings with no covered awnings for protection from the weather. A small backpack or draw-string bag is needed to carry a space camp workbook that is given to every camper. Also, please know that space camp is a “no-pressure” environment. Campers are not required to ride each ride or participate in each simulator (sitting and watching are allowed.) The camp counselors are very understanding when young campers are afraid.”
When I asked if these campers would like to return, Aidan said, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!” Anselm chimed in, “Who wouldn’t want to come back?!”
Frequently Asked Questions:
What is Space Camp?
An educational camp held in both residential and day camp formats, Space Camp inlcudes themes and educational programs. Examples include space exploration, aviation, and robotics. It is a primary reason why people visit Huntsville, Alabama for the first time and draws campers from across the United States and internationally. This immersive experience introduces campers to astronaut training and a simulated space mission using equipment similar to that used in NASA’s astronaut training program.
Space Camp is not only a summer camp. Space camp programs are held throughout the year.
Where is Space Camp Alabama?
Space Camp is located on the grounds of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center Museum and the Visitor Center for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. The address is One Tranquility Base, Huntsville, Alabama 35805. The rockets on display are the most iconic sights on I-565 as you enter Huntsville heading east off I-65.
Huntsville International Airport is only a 15-minute drive from Space Camp. Round-trip transportation from the airport (arranged in advance) cost $50.
How Much Does Space Camp Cost?
The cost for Space Camp, including all meals and accommodations is $1299.
There are other options, however, ranging from a weekend camp with day programs on Saturday and Sunday which does not include lodging for a cost of $299 per person to an Adult Space Camp, an Adult Space Academy or Adult Advanced Space Academy for $1599.
A Robotics Camp for ages 9-11 costs $1299. U.S. Cyber Camp is $1299, and the Advanced Cyber Academy for ages 15-18 is $1499.
SALSA, Space Academy for Leading Students in Alabama, provides space camp scholarships from the Alabama Legislature for a male and female student from every legislative district in Alabama.
How Long is Space Camp?
The typical Space Camp lasts 6 days and 5 nights, checking in on Sunday afternoon and checking out the following Friday morning.
Can Families Attend Space Camp Alabama?
Yes. There is a 2-day Family Space Camp option which is from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturday and from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Sunday. It includes lunch each day but no accommodations. Family Space Academy runs from 2:00 p.m. on Friday to graduation at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday and includes 5 meals and 2 nights’ lodging.
Grandparents often accompany their grandchildren as Family Space Academy attendees.
During the typical Space Camp experience, parents are not allowed to visit during the week but are encouraged to attend the graduation. Each camper has a Circuitree account where parents can send BunkNotes to their child and receive photos made by Crew Trainers during the week.
What’s the Difference Between Space Camp and Space Academy?
Space Camp welcomes children ages 9-11. The 9-year-olds must have completed or be currently enrolled in the 4th grade. Space Academy focuses on children 12-14 years of age.
Hotels near Space Camp Alabama
Oftentimes parents bring their child to Space Camp and then want to explore Huntsville and North Alabama during the week before attending graduation when the camp concludes. A number of hotels are within an easy drive of Space Camp.
Huntsville Marriott at the Space & Rocket Center is the nearest to Space Camp and is located at 5 Tranquility Base.
Drury Inn & Suites Huntsville at the Space & Rocket Center is at 93 Wynn Drive, NW.
The Westin Huntsville, located at Bridge Street Town Centre, is on the opposite side of I-565 but a short drive from Space Camp.
Hilton Garden Inn Huntsville/Space Center is located at 4801 Governors House Drive in Huntsville.
Two of the newest Huntsville hotels are located in the downtown area. 106 Jefferson is within walking distance of premier Huntsville restaurants, and AC Hotel by Marriott overlooks Big Spring International Park.