Did you dream of being an astronaut as a kid? Maybe your own kid is completely space-obsessed. Whether you’re enduring an endless stream of pleas from your child – or your inner child –, it’s time to go to Space Camp!
Space Camp is a one-of-a-kind experience where you can relive those dreams of astronaut stardom or let your own child see how deep their passion for space science goes. In this post, you’ll learn all about what Space Camp is like, how much Space Camp costs, and different Space Camp programs. Watch this quick video to get a look at what it’s really like to go to Space Camp, then read on for all the details.
Note: STG founder Valerie had the chance to visit Space Camp in October 2018. This post is based on her experiences.
What is Space Camp?
Space Camp is a unique opportunity for people of all ages to learn what it’s like to train as an astronaut and go to space. With programs for children aged 9-18, as well as adults and families, anyone who is enthusiastic about human space exploration can attend Space Camp and experience it first-hand.
Space Camp offers attendees the chance to try real astronaut training exercises and simulations, to learn more about the history and future of space travel, and to improve their critical thinking, team-building, and communications skills.
How Does Space Camp Work?
“Space Camp starts on Sunday and cadets graduate the following Friday,” says Robin Soprano, Director of Simulations at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. Soprano serves as the equivalent of a combination of camp director and activities director for Space Camp. She is constantly evolving its programming and experiences to help educate and inspire space-enthusiastic attendees in the 21st century.
The Sunday-through-Friday schedule is for children who attend one of the three programs targeted at attendees under 18. 9-to-11 year-olds attend the traditional “Space Camp,” focusing on astronaut training techniques, sims to inspire creating thinking and problem solving, and the basics of rocketry. 12-to-14 year-olds attend “Space Academy;” 15-to-18 year-olds attend “Advanced Space Academy.” Each level of space camp increases the complexity and educational impact for attendees as they age, so future astronauts (enthusiastic children) can attend every level if they want.
Other special programs include an 8-day “Advanced Space Academy Elite” program for the top tier of teenage attendees; “Adult Space Camp;” space camp programming for families or educators; and even a day camp option. Most of these programs operate on weekends (Friday to Sunday) in between sessions with children cadets.
In addition to all of the Space Camp options, the U.S. Space & Rocket Center offers aviation, robotics, and cyber technology camps. “40,000 to 45,000 people enroll per year [across all camps],” Soprano shares.
What You’ll Experience at Space Camp
Space Camp is designed to both educate and inspire attendees through a series of astronaut training experiences and “astrosims.” These astrosims tackle a variety of experiences that a real astronaut might face when working for NASA.
“We’re trying to inspire the kids who will be the ones to go to Mars: what does it take to live independent of earth?,” Soprano shares of her focus in Space Camp programming. “We’re moving out of space shuttles and toward space flight. We have two Orion simulators, and the [Sierra Nevada Corporation] Dream Chaser, [SpaceX] Dragon, and [Boeing] Starliner on our wishlist.”
“Our goal is how can we tell NASA’s story,” continues Soprano. “As we’re moving toward Commercial Crew and turn over the ISS to private industry, we try to model that here. Dragon and Starliner capsules will help tell that story too.”
While visiting in October 2018, we also see a Mars colony base sim under construction. The team at U.S. Space & Rocket Center is working to come up with engaging and interactive programming that allows students to get a sense for the real work astronauts will do in the future. “The automation [of spaceflight] gives us a challenge. How do we make it more interactive?,” muses Soprano.
Don’t worry: plenty of Space Camp is interactive. Here are some of the experiences you’ll have during Space Camp.
The Multi-Axis Trainer
If you’ve ever wondered how you’ll fare in space where there is no ‘up’ and ‘down,’ the multi-axis trainer is a great experience. A motor powers three concentric circles which rotate in seemingly random patterns – and you’ll be strapped to a chair right in the middle of it.
Though you might worry about motion sickness, the chair is actually designed to keep your stomach in a single point in space. Motion sickness, if any, will be minimal, but you’ll get a great sense for how Sandra Bullock might have felt tumbling through space in Gravity.
The Moon Gravity Simulator
Also known as the 1/6th gravity simulator, you can experience what it was like to walk on the moon. Strap into a chair on springs and pulleys, and one of the Space Camp staff will attach a leash so you don’t go bounding away. (Yes, it’s quite easy to do so – and hard to control your movements when you can’t count on gravity to help!)
Spend a few minutes bounding on a moon-like surface to appreciate how Apollo 16 astronaut John Young could so easily bounce around while wearing the 180-pound (82kg) life support suit.
A Shuttle Orbiter Launch & Landing
While Space Camp continues to develop its futuristic programming, you can still experience a highlight of 20th-century human spaceflight: a simulated Space Shuttle launch and landing. Board the cockpit of the shuttle sim with your team of pilots, payload specialists, and mission specialists to experience the rumble of launch and the tricky maneuvering sometimes required during landing.
During this sim, you’ll also get to speak with Mission Control. Space Camp staff in Mission Control provide instructions in real-time during sims, using the same complex language astronauts learn to interpret and act upon. My team struggled and landed on the beach, so it seems we need to go back to astronaut training at Johnson Space Center!
Taking a Spacewalk
One of the most complex and exhausting parts of Space Camp is taking a spacewalk – just like astronauts report spacewalking to be an exhilarating but arduous task. Suit up with the help of a Space Camp staff member, and step into a harness which lifts you up 12 feet (4m). There you’ll tether onto a simulated exterior of the International Space Station to work with a teammate on a series of tasks repairing the ISS.
Just like in space, every nut, bolt, and wrench must be tethered so it doesn’t fall… er, float away, and the instructions require a series of complex tasks, coordinated efforts, and communication with your spacewalking teammate. You also can’t open your helmet for fresh air, despite how hot the space suit will get.
Orion Launch & Landing
New to Space Camp in the last few years, you can step inside simulated Orion launch and landing capsules to get a sense for what future astronauts will use to get to the moon, Mars, and beyond.
After the Shuttle sim, Orion will feel like you’ve fast-forwarded 50 years; huge screens and automation take care of the majority of launch and landing. However, you’ll still need to speak to Mission Control, monitor all of the important instruments, and respond in an anomalous situation.
You can crawl from the launch cockpit to the landing module to better understand how astronauts will navigate between the two. End with a moon landing experience sim as well.
Visiting U.S. Space & Rocket Center
On the grounds of U.S. Space & Rocket Center, Space Camp is just one part of what you can experience here. U.S. Space & Rocket Center is the public-facing experience for visitors who want to see the work NASA is doing at nearby NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.
You can’t miss seeing some of the artifacts, replicas, and history housed in this massive museum. Don’t miss the Davidson Center for Space Exploration, home to one of the largest collections of rockets and space memorabilia in the world. A full-size Saturn V is housed inside, with informative exhibits and displays all around the hall. You can also see a mock lunar lander and rover, and the Apollo 16 command module.
From U.S. Space & Rocket Center, you can also book a tour to NASA Marshall. The 2- to 2.5-hour bus tour shows you key highlights of NASA Marshall and the work they’re doing there.
Will You Become an Astronaut at Space Camp?
Unfortunately, no. Space Camp is meant to help members of the public better understand how astronauts train and work. But, it’s no substitute for the years of training most astronauts put in.If you want to become an astronaut, check out this NASA resource on what it takes to become one.
What’s the Difference Between Space Camp for Children & Adults?
Space Camp is primarily targeted at kids, but over time the programming has evolved to include offerings for adults too. So what’s the difference?Space Camp for children is a longer, overnight experience where kids stay on-site for a full five days (eight for “Advanced Space Academy Elite”). The goal is for children to learn and bond together with their crew mates, and to experience all Space Camp has to offer.
Space Camp for adults is a shorter, weekend experience. Adult attendees can choose to stay overnight at Space Camp in the bunks – or stay at a nearby hotel. Simulations are adjusted for complexity and programming is truncated to allow you to get a flavor for astronaut life. Even in three days, you’ll run multiple sims, try all of the training experiences, and have plenty of time to gaze longingly at the Saturn V.
What Else to Do in Rocket City USA (Huntsville, AL)
Space Camp is the tip of the rocket for experiences in its hometown of Huntsville, Alabama. Colloquially known as Rocket City, USA, there are plenty of things to do. If you’re purely interested in space experiences, be sure to visit Von Braun Astronomical Society with its planetarium and observatory in Monte Sano State Park. Cathedral Caverns is also a cool experience if you’re curious what living on Mars might look like (will we live underground?!).
You can also sample the culture, art, food, and history in Huntsville. Lowe Mill Arts & Entertainment houses dozens of local artists in working studios and galleries, or you can enjoy the exhibits at the Huntsville Museum of Art. Grab a meal at A.M. Booth’s Lumberyard for a distinctly southern experience, or spend a whole afternoon feeding coins into the arcade games at Pint and Pixels. Explore Campus 805 for axe-throwing at Civil Axe Throwing, wood-fired pizza from Earth & Stone, and fresh beer from Yellowhammer or Straight to Ale brewing companies. History lovers will enjoy a walking tour of the historic Twickenham district or a visit to Burritt on the Mountain. Lastly, nature lovers can stroll the grounds at the Huntsville Botanical Garden or go for a hike in the Land Trust of North Alabama.
There’s plenty to do whether you extend your trip to Huntsville beyond Space Camp, or you’re a parent or caregiver enjoying a week of vacation while your future astronaut (child) is at Space Camp themselves.
Other Important Space Camp Info
Updated for 2019, this section has the logistical details you need to finish planning a trip to Space Camp.
How Much Does Space Camp Cost?
Less than a moon sample! (Kidding – moon samples aren’t for sale!)
Space Camp cost varies depending on the programming you (or your child) plan to attend, as well as age:
|Program||Age||Days/Nights||Price||Link for Info|
|Advanced Space Academy||15-18||6D/5N||$1199||https://www.spacecamp.com/space/advancedacademy|
|Advanced Space Academy Elite||15-18||8D/7N||$2099||https://www.spacecamp.com/space/elite|
|Adult Space Camp||18+||3D/2N||$549||https://www.spacecamp.com/space/adult|
|Family Space Camp||7+*||3D/2N||$948**||https://www.spacecamp.com/space/family|
*All children must be at least 7 years old.
**$948 covers 1 adult and 1 child. It is $349 for each additional adult and child.
To see all Space Camp options and prices, visit the Space Camp website.
What are the Dates for Space Camp?
Space Camp dates vary each year, and by program. Here are the basics:
- Space Camp for children runs all summer long. In 2019, Space Camp starts on Sunday, May 26th and runs every Sunday until Sunday, August 25th, with no gaps.
- Advanced Space Academy Elite runs just once in 2019: July 28 to August 4, 2019
- Adult Space Camp occurs one weekend monthly through the winter months, and more frequently in the summer months. Check Adult Space Camp page for exact dates.
To see all Space Camp dates and availability, visit the Space Camp website.
U.S. Space & Rocket Center Admission
If you don’t want to attend Space Camp but just want to visit the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, you can do so. Admission to U.S. Space & Rocket Center is $25 for adults, $17 for children aged 5 to 12, and free for children under age 4. The add-on bus tour to NASA Marshall Space Flight Center is $20 per person aged 5+ (free for children under 4).
Hotels Near Space Camp
Whether you’re attending Adult Space Camp and aren’t keen to stay in the dorms or need to spend a few nights while your child is at Space Camp, there are hotel options very close to the area.
- The Huntsville Marriott at the Space & Rocket Center is within walking distance of Space Camp and the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.
- The Drury Inn & Suites Huntsville is a 3-minute drive from Space Camp and the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.
- The Hilton Garden Inn – Huntsville/Space Center is a 5-minute drive from Space Camp and the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.
- The Extended Stay America Huntsville – U.S. Space and Rocket Center is also a 5-minute drive from Space Camp and the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.
Ready to enroll at Space Camp? Let us know any questions you have in the comments.
Disclaimer: We have affiliate relationships with some of the companies linked in this post. This post was sponsored in partnership with the Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau. Thanks to the many Huntsville-area businesses who helped sponsor this trip, including the Drury Inn & Suites Huntsville, and Space Camp at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. The other people pictured in this post include Gemma & Craig from Two Scots Abroad, Mike from Bemused Backpacker (read his guide to Space Camp here), Laurence from Finding the Universe (read his guide to Space Camp here), and Jessica from Independent Travel Cats (read her guide to Huntsville here).
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