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What's Up Magazine

To Infinity and Beyond

Feb 02, 2012 09:17PM ● By Anonymous
I’m talking about Space Camp at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. I attended the camp with my 10-year old son through Windsor Farm Elementary School this past spring. Known as the Pathfinder Program for fourth-graders, it’s one of many programs or camps at the center. After a three-day weekend filled with action-packed activities, we emerged tired, but extremely knowledgeable and appreciative of the U.S. Space program.

Arriving at camp on an early Friday afternoon, our school group was quickly separated into three teams and whisked away to our first training experience. We continued training, learning, and working until 9:30 p.m. Dead tired, it was easy to collapse into our habitat (picture a gerbil cage, tunnels and all). The habitats are supposed to mimic the real experience. My advice if you plan on attending: Bring a foam mattress cover and your own linens unless you don’t mind sleeping on cardboard.

The next day, we woke up at 7 a.m., went to breakfast from 8–8:30 a.m., and spent the rest of the day, until 9:30 p.m., sprinting from activity to activity. In the three days that we were there, we performed a mission, learned about rockets (I can pretty much name all rocket parts and how they work), walked on the “moon” using a 1/6 gravity chair simulator, spun out of control in a multiaxis trainer, built and launched a rocket, climbed a rock wall, went to Mars, conducted space experiments, visited the museum, watched educational films, designed a space patch, played “Space Jeopardy,” and graduated from space camp...and that’s probably only one third of the things we accomplished. Seriously.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the experience was the one-and-half-hour “Mission.” The day before the mission, each member of the team is trained in a specialized role in Mission Control or the Orbiter and Space Station simulators. Then, during the mission, the team works together to launch the shuttle to the International Space Station, complete experiments that mimic those conducted in space, and finally return to Earth. The mission focuses on problem solving, communication, teamwork, and leadership. There were some tense moments as problems, or “anomalies,” arose—it was easy to forget that it was all “pretend.” However, after the mission was completed, we all felt a sense of accomplishment and had a better understanding of the space program and why astronauts spend their lives training for such missions.

For the culmination of the camp, each team had a chance to show off their newfound knowledge by competing in “Space Jeopardy.” Even though our team leader drilled us mercilessly on space topics, rocket parts, and mission science in any amount of free time we had, I’m sad to say that our team choked and lost. We also lost the Space patch competition. However, we did take the prize for the best mission, and, well, I think that’s the most important award.

The U.S. Space & Rocket Center is known for one of the most comprehensive U.S.-manned space flight hardware museums in the world. And it isn’t just for camp attendees; families can take field trips to the center and experience it in their own way. It’s well worth a day trip if you’re in the Huntsville, Alabama, area. The facilities include the Spacedome Theater, Rocket Park, Davidson Center for Space Exploration, and the Education Training Center. This Pathfinder program for fourth-graders is one of many programs that the U.S. Space & Rocket Center offers. They also offer weeklong programs through schools, and space camps during the summer months for kids and adults. During the summer, there are three tracks available, each with a different educational slant: the space track, aviation track, and robotics track. Think of it as a “fantasy camp” for wanna-be astronauts, pilots, or engineers. But, be warned, you won’t get much sleep unless you’re adept at sleeping on miniscule, hard plastic mattresses in a gerbil cage.

For more information about the facility and the camps, visit