If you want your little geniuses to become rocket scientists, or just want to expose your children or grandchildren to the possibility, consider vacationing with NASA for an “out of this world” experience at Space Camp. The U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama is the place to get started.
Before I visited the U.S. Space and Rocket Center I had heard of Space Camp, but thought it was only for kids, and only for the intellectually and physically buff, those who could withstand blast offs, G-forces and life at zero gravity. Life at zero gravity appeals to me, but my need for speed has faded.
There are many options for families wishing to engage in a space encounter, depending on the make-up of your family. More than 750,000 people from 140 international locations have been through Space Camp since it opened in 1982. Sixteen million visitors have toured the U.S. Space and Rocket Center since it opened in 1970. So, you won’t be the first to visit, and with all of the work being done at the international space station, and preparing missions to the moon and mars, you certainly will not be the last to visit either. You are never too young or too old to experience the world of space exploration.
An important objective of a family vacation is to make sure the kids are having so much fun, they don’t realize they are learning something. Why not plan an adventure that will guarantee an A+ on that, “What I did on my summer vacation” essay they will write when they get back to school? Actually, programs are offered all year, but summer seems like a great time to start making stellar family memories.
The U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama is the perfect place to engage and entertain smart kids with cool summer science. With easy access from I-65, many people pass through Huntsville to get to the Gulf Shores of Alabama or the mountains of Tennessee. Huntsville is worth a stop. Once you visit for your first day trip, you will most likely be making plans for some, if not all of your family members to participate in a more extensive experience.
If you’re not from the southeastern United States, and don’t just happen to be passing through, the Huntsville, Alabama International Airport (HSV) is just a few miles from the space center.
A Day Trip
An official NASA Visitor Center and Smithsonian Affiliate, the center is filled with more action and excitement than any amusement park, only this is the real deal. A day ticket to the center will buy you admission into historic shuttle park, rocket park, indoor exhibit areas, a guided tour, hands-on demonstrations and presentations, museum tours, and best of all, a behind the scenes tour of Space Camp, just in case you think you might decide to come back for an extended period of time. Plan to get there early and stay late. Arrive well rested. You will need stamina to get through all of the cool things to see and do.
For an additional charge, a two-hour daily bus tour of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center is available for U.S. Citizens only. Depending on your time restrictions and your ability to absorb large amounts of information, the bus tour can be wedged into a one-day trip, or saved for a second day on its own.
Space Camp Options
The entire family can go to Space Camp together, and family members age 7-100 are welcome. Families train as a team of astronauts as they work together during rocket construction. An Aviation Challenge Family Camp includes fighter pilot training, including a King of the Hill competition.
Three and four day Space Camp options are available for adults only, on certain weekends. If you don’t have kids or the kids are all grown up, consider this option. Whether you choose to attend alone, because your pals just aren’t as adventurous as you are, or you can corral a group of friends and family to sign up together, the adult only versions over a weekend are a great option to maximize time off from work with an interesting adventure. A weekend at Space Camp could be a unique bachelor or bachelorette party, or a special birthday celebration.
Space Camp just for kids starts with a program for 9-11 year olds. Space Academy is for 12-14 year olds, and Advanced Space Camp is designed for high school students. In addition, special Space Camps in aviation and robotics are offered for additional training. Accommodations can be made for trainees who are hearing and visually impaired, have special dietary restrictions, and trainees who are in wheelchairs. It seems the experts believe life on Mars should be inclusive, and they start with making Space Camp available for many.
To enhance one’s appreciation for a visit to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, some pre-trip research and exploration is helpful. NASA.gov is the place to start to get educated on all of the amazing things going on in space exploration that don’t make the nightly news.
Scholarships are available for students wishing to attend a week long space camp. The annual scholarship competition opens in mid-September. Applicants may apply in one of four categories for financial need, special needs, academic achievement or leadership. Spacecamp.com/scholarships is the place to apply.
Dr. Wernher von Braun, the father of the Apollo Moon Landing once said, “All one can really leave one’s children is what’s inside their heads. Education, in other words, and not earthly possessions is the ultimate legacy, the only thing that cannot be taken away.”
According to a Space Camp Alumni Survey, 88% of Space Camp graduates took more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) classes after attending camp. Seventy-one of Space Camp grads chose a career field related to aerospace, technology, energy, defense or biotechnology, and 66% said their camp experience inspired their decision to enter a STEM field.
Whether a one day trip is all that interests your family, or multiple trips to Space Camp launch the career of a future astronaut, Huntsville, Alabama and the U.S. Space and Rocket Center is definitely an American “must do” for those who dream big. Planning a vacation that helps your kids get smarter seems to be a good investment.
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