10 Out-of-This-World Facts About Space Camp

U.S. Department of Education, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
U.S. Department of Education, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Each year, millions of kids fill their summer vacation days with songs, crafts, and outdoor activities at camp. Summer camps across the U.S. share many similarities, but Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama is unique. Instead of canoeing and archery, young attendees get to ride spacecraft simulators, build robots, and program computers. It’s the closest young civilians can come to working for NASA.

Space Camp welcomed its first aspiring astronauts in 1982, and since then, more than 900,000 campers have attended the program. From its famous alumni to its depiction in film, here are some more facts about Space Camp.

1. The movie SpaceCamp boosted its popularity.

SpaceCamp, the movie inspired by the real camp in Huntsville, Alabama, wasn’t a huge hit when it debuted in theaters in 1986. It grossed just $9,697,739—a little more than half its reported budget. But it didn’t fade into obscurity completely. The film saw success in the home video market and became popular enough to leave a lasting mark on pop culture. Dr. Deborah Barnhart, the real camp’s director for part of the 1980s, told AL.com that attendance doubled following the movie’s release. SpaceCamp shot many of its scenes on location at the Huntsville center. The life-sized space-shuttle flight-deck and mid-deck built for the film were donated to the camp and used as a simulator there from 1986 to 2012.

2. Space Camp was the brainchild of a missile designer.

Some people may be surprised to learn that Space Camp is located in Alabama and not Florida, home to Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center (the movie SpaceCamp is set in Florida despite being filmed in Alabama). But Huntsville, Alabama, has been a major aeronautics center since the 1950s when Wernher von Braun and his team of rocketeers moved there. The German scientist had designed ballistic missiles for the United States military after World War II, and shortly after relocating to Huntsville, he redirected his attention to space flight. He launched the U.S. Space and Rocket Center as a way to demonstrate the area’s rocket technology to tourists. Von Braun also came up with the idea for a science-focused alternative to traditional summer camps after seeing children touring the rocket center and taking notes. Space Camp opened at the center in 1982, a few years after his death.

3. Space Camp activities go beyond space.

The kids at Space Camp do more than ride giant rocket simulators. After enrolling, young campers choose a track to focus on. They can study aviation and learn air navigation and combat techniques, choose robotics and build their own robots, or stick to space-centric subjects and activities. The newest Space Camp experience, cyber camp, teaches kids programming and online security skills.

4. The Space Camp simulators don’t make campers sick.

Space Camp is home to three simulators based on real-life training rigs astronauts use to prepare for space missions. The most intense rig is the multi-axis trainer, and just watching a video of it in action may be enough to make you feel queasy. But according to the camp’s website, campers “should not become sick or dizzy on any of our simulators.” On the multi-axis trainer, this is due to the fact that the rider's stomach remains at the center of the chair throughout the simulation, even as the chair itself is spinning in all directions. Motion sickness is caused when your inner ear fluid and your eyes send your brain conflicting information. Because the rig tumbles so wildly, the rider's inner fluid never has a chance to shift and make them want to vomit.

5. Space Camp boasts some famous alumni.

Space Camp attracts bright young minds from around the world, including a few celebrities. Chelsea Clinton attended the week-long program when her father was in the White House in 1993. Amy Carter, Jimmy Carter’s daughter, and Karenna Gore, daughter of Al Gore, also enrolled in the camp. But not every famous Space Camp graduate came from the world of politics: South African actress Charlize Theron is another notable alumna.

6. Several Space Camp graduates went on to be astronauts.

Many kids who go to Space Camp dream of growing up to be astronauts, and for some of them, that dream becomes a reality. The camp’s alumni includes the “Tremendous 12”—a handful of Space Camp graduates who’ve made it to space. Most members of this elite group were trained by NASA, but a few of them went on to work for other space agencies like the ESA.

7. Most Space Campers end up in STEM professions.

Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama.
GPA Photo Archive, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Even if they don’t go on to be astronauts, most Space Camp attendees have bright futures ahead of them. According to the camp, 61 percent of graduates are studying aerospace, defense, energy, education, biotech, or technology, or they’re working in one of those fields already. Of the alumni pursuing careers in STEM, half of them said that Space Camp inspired that decision.

8. There’s a Space Camp for visually impaired kids.

The U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama hosts a second Space Camp that shares a lot in common with its original program. There are space simulators, astronaut-training missions, and even scuba diving—the main difference is that the kids there are blind or visually impaired. Space Camp for Interested Visually Impaired Students, or SCIVIS, offers children in grades 4 to 12 a crash course in various STEM subjects. They use accessible tools, like computers adapted for speech and reading materials printed in braille or large print. Activities for the week-long camp are organized by teachers familiar with the needs of visually impaired students.

9. Double Dare sent winners to Space Camp.

After conquering the obstacle course of the Nickelodeon game show Double Dare, kid contestants were sent home with various prizes. Though no doubt exciting in the 1980s and '90s, many of the prizes—which included encyclopedias, cassette recorders, and AOL subscriptions—haven’t aged well. A trip to Space Camp was one of the biggest awards players could win, and it’s one of the few that would still have value today.

10. Adults can go to Space Camp too.

If you never went to Space Camp as a kid, you haven’t missed your chance. While the regular Space Camp is only open to kids ages 9 to 18, the U.S. Space & Rocket Center also offers camp programs for older space enthusiasts. Family Space Camp is designed for groups that include at least one child and one adult, and if you don’t plan on tagging along with a kid, you can enroll in the three-day Adult Space Camp experience that’s strictly for campers 18 and older.

10 Splendid Gifts for Royal Family Fanatics

Funko/Amazon
Funko/Amazon

Between the never-ending publicity surrounding Meghan Markle and the long-awaited third season of The Crown on Netflix, Americans seem to be tuning into the intimate goings-on of England’s most famous family now more than ever. From corgi-covered socks to a Kate Middleton fashion coloring book, here are 10 brilliant products to help you showcase your passion for all things royal.

1. Royal Windsor Monopoly; $56

windsor castle monopoly
Winning Moves Games/Amazon

Forget Baltic Avenue and Marvin Gardens—take your tiny top hat on a tour of the Windsor grounds, from St. George’s Chapel to Eton College. This edition of Elizabeth Magie’s classic board game still has many opportunities for taxes, bankruptcy, and jail, but with an undeniable air of sophistication.

Buy It: Amazon

2. Corgi Socks; $7

corgi socks
Hot Sox

Celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s long-standing love for corgis by sporting some of the smiling puppers on your very own two feet.

Buy It: Amazon

3. Princess Diana Funko POP! Doll; $9

princess diana funko pop doll
Funko/Amazon

While you’re waiting to see Emma Corrin portray Princess Diana in season four of The Crown, treat your toy shelf to a Funko Diana doll, clad in her iconic black gown. There are more royal Funkos, too, like Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Harry, and Kate Middleton.

Buy It: Amazon

4. Twinings Earl Grey Tea; $9

twinings earl grey tea
Twinings/Amazon

Twinings has been the official tea supplier of the Royal Household since the 19th century, and according to former royal chef Darren McGrady, the Queen likes Earl Grey the best. If you really want to mirror the monarch’s preferences, add a splash of milk—but skip the sugar.

Buy It: Amazon

5. Royally British Mug; $16

royally british mug
Victoria Eggs/Amazon

What better way to sip the Queen’s favorite tea than from a teacup bearing symbols of her kingdom? Not only is this 12-ounce bone china mug hand-illustrated with Balmoral Castle, Windsor Castle, and Buckingham Palace, it also features all of the UK’s national flowers: England’s rose, Wales’s daffodil, Scotland’s thistle, and Northern Ireland’s shamrock.

Buy It: Amazon

6. Kate Middleton Royal Fashions Coloring Book; $4

kate middleton fashion coloring book
E.R. Miller Designs

Kate Middleton manages to stick to the many royal family fashion rules while still stepping out in some impressively voguish ensembles. Add your own polychromatic flair to her most memorable looks in this coloring book, with special appearances by Prince William and more.

Buy It: Amazon

7. How to Speak Brit; $16

how to speak brit book
Avery/Amazon

Though the royal family doesn’t likely deign to speak the slang of the masses, How to Speak Brit also contains plenty of posh phrases, along with explanations of how they came to be. This dictionary-slash-cultural-study is handy for anyone who watches Downton Abbey, The Great British Bake Off, or any other British television series or film.

Buy It: Amazon

8. LEGO Buckingham Palace Set; $72

lego buckingham palace set
LEGO/Amazon

This 780-piece buildable version of Queen Elizabeth II’s primary residence includes a double-decker bus, black cab, and the Victoria Memorial. It also comes with a booklet on the design, architecture, and history of Buckingham Palace.

Buy It: Amazon

9. Royal Carriage Jewelry Box; $17

qifu royal carriage jewelry box
Qifu/Amazon

We can’t all roll up to special events in a gold-embellished stagecoach, but we can store our jewelry in one. The Fabergé egg-inspired design of this carriage makes it a perfect mantelpiece decoration, too.

Buy It: Amazon

10. Buckingham Palace Jigsaw Puzzle; $30

buckingham palace jigsaw puzzle
Gibsons/Amazon

This 1000-piece puzzle depicts the scene at Buckingham Palace during the Queen’s birthday celebration. In the image, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip are trotting off to Horse Guard's Parade for Trooping the Colour, the Queen’s annual inspection of the military.

Buy It: Amazon

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