Students interested in aviation and space can attend Space Camp USA in Huntsville Alabama, and its related camps, Aviation Challenge, Robotics Camp and Cyber Camp at the Huntsville NASA center. With input from a teen space camp graduate, this Space Camp Huntsville guide gives you the inside scoop on what Space Camp kids can expect from some of the most innovative programs for budding aeronautical enthusiasts.
About Space Camp Huntsville AL
Since 1982, Space Camp has been offering state-of-the-art learning opportunities for students who want to develop their skills in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Where is Space Camp in Alabama?
Nicknamed Rocket City, Huntsville Alabama has both the largest space museum in the USA as well as one of the largest facilities for NASA, the American governmental entity responsible for aeronautics and space research. The Huntsville NASA facilities are responsible for various things like the International Space Station and crew training.
For parents staying for the week while their kids are at camp, there are plenty of things to do in Huntsville as well as lots of options for Huntsville accommodations.
My son stayed for 2 sessions in 2019 which gave me enough time to do an Alabama road trip and also visit other cool places in North Alabama like Helen Keller’s childhood home near Florence Alabama and the Lost Luggage Center in Scottsboro Alabama.
Located in Northeastern Alabama, Huntsville is super convenient from other states as well. For example, the nearest international flights go into Atlanta, Georgia and Nashville Tennessee, both well served by many carriers. Huntsville itself has an airport for domestic travel but is also easily located off major American interstates.
Space Camp Kids Ages
Programs suited for ages 9 to 18 have been developed to help students apply STEM skills to real-world scenarios. There is Space Camp itself, but also Aviation Challenge, Robotics Camp and Cyber Camp for kids who have more focussed interests in the field.
How Long is Space Camp?
Thousands of kids from all around the world take part in the 1 week programs. Kids get dropped off on the Sunday and stay for 6 days/5 nights.
Graduation is on the last day. In 2019, parents were physically present for the graduation ceremony which occurred right before pick-up. In 2021, however, the graduation ceremony was virtual on the last night and pick-up was the next day.
Lots of kids choose to do weeks in succession, for example both Space Camp and Aviation Challenge over a two week period.
The popularity of the programs are underscored by the number of kids who return year after year and make life-long friendships with fellow campers.
Where Do Space Camp Kids Stay?
Space, Robotics and Cyber Campers stay at Habitats 1 and 2 close to the NASA Space and Rocket Center. Aviation campers are based nearby at Habitat 3, a short distance from the center.
Campers are in bunk rooms with bunk beds. The number of campers per room depends on the room size. Girls and boys are in separate wings of the Habitats.
What Do Space Camp Kids Eat?
Every day the campers enjoy lunch and dinner from a different country that is part of the International Space Station, for example, Italian, Japanese and British.
If your camper finds the food too exotic, there is always an American selection of burgers or fried chicken available. Breakfast tends to be the usual fare such as pancakes or waffles and fried chicken with gravy (after all, you are in the South!).
Children with special food requirements are catered to specifically.
Space Camp Huntsville Alabama Cost
Depending on the program, the Space Camp Huntsville Alabama cost can run between $1300-$1500 per week.
Some of the Space Camp and Aviation Challenge kids buy crew uniform kids (available to buy beforehand or while you are there). We, however, chose not to add this unnecessary expense. There are, however, lots of cool tee-shirts and other gear to buy at the NASA space museum store.
Our Experience at Space Camp Huntsville AL
My son has done Space Camp and Aviation Challenge Mach 2 in 2019. Although we signed up for 2020, Space Camp was not held in 2020 because of the world pandemic.
He returned in 2021 for Aviation Challenge Mach 3. He wanted to do Robotics Camp but that was not offered in 2021 because of ongoing pandemic issues. He plans on returning for Aviation Challenge Mach 3 again in 2022 because he is not eligible for Mach 3 Elite until 2023.
My son has LOVED space camp and aviation challenge. In fact, in 2019, after his 2 week session, he announced that he had ‘found his people’.
He has made friends from all over the USA and he keeps in touch with them via social media. His Aviation Challenge group from 2021 plan on coordinating their return week in 2022 for Aviation Challenge Mach 3. He also wants to do Advanced Space Academy.
Space Camp USA
The weeklong program sees students take part in astronaut training adapted straight from NASA’s own astronaut program. They will also learn about the vast array of aerospace career opportunities and take part in simulated spaceflight missions.
Space Camp is divided into three groups by age: Space Camp, Space Academy, Advanced Space Academy and Advanced Space Academy Elite.
Space Camp Huntsville AL Activities
There are tons of activities that the students look forward to, some of the most popular being the 1/6th Gravity Chair, the Five Degrees of Freedom Simulator, and the Multi-Axis Trainer. Kids don’t only learn about being an astronaut, but they also construct and launch their own model rockets like real engineers.
They learn about new rocket technology and get a look into life on the International Space Station. Students also get creative by envisioning a futuristic Martian colony. Their competitive sides and team-building skills will also be sharpened through challenge nights that run all week.
To top it all off, a simulated mission to the International Space Station brings together everything that was learned throughout the week.
Each camper gets specific roles during this missions. For example, my son was a Head of Mission Control on a simulated mission to Mars and a lab researcher on a simulated Space Shuttle Mission.
Space Camp Aviation Challenge
Space Camp also offers an innovative program for aviation enthusiasts. The Aviation Challenge Space Camp places a focus on skills and knowledge related to aviation in a military-training setting.
There are 4 levels for Aviation Camp divided by age group.
Aviation Challenge Mach 1
This program is suited for students aged 9 to 11 and provides an introduction to the world of aviation. Flight simulators will test campers’ basic knowledge of the field and give them the best possible introduction to flying.
Students step into the boots of a fighter pilot and have to navigate through scenario-based missions and operate control systems. Imperative skills like water and land-survival also form part of this beginner’s course.
Aviation Challenge Mach 2
The next grouping is for students who are in the 12 to 14 age bracket.
Campers put their knowledge to the test with exciting hands-on activities. Students will make use of advanced flight simulators to get air combat maneuvering training. They will also do water-based activities like rafting and a dunker tank to simulate a helicopter crash.
This training will prepare them for adrenaline-fueled mission scenarios. Another critical skill that is introduced is search-and-rescue to locate pilots that might have gone down in flight.
The topics of aeronautics, propulsion, and aviation history are also covered, and that knowledge is applied in the high-tech UAV drone simulator.
Aviation Challenge Mach 3
Aviation Challenge Mach 3 is for students aged 15 to 18. Each team is made up of 12 campers who work together. In my son’s 2021 Aviation Challenge week, there were 3 teams in total.
Campers take control and maneuver through advanced simulations on all three rotational axes of flight. They take command and their leadership abilities are put to the test, all while applying intricate engineering principles.
Trainees also look forward to advanced field training with hikes twice a week. The nighttime Field Training Exercise is the ultimate test of survival skills and teamwork abilities.
Things get physical with the high and low ropes course and 150-foot zipline that will have students overcoming their fears.
An immersive F-18 cockpit simulator is the closest thing to the real deal the students can get and it offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the young adrenaline junkies.
Over the course of six days, students will have to plan and carry out three missions – a basic mission, a weapons mission and then an advanced mission. At the end, there is a Top Gun mission. An Unmanned Aerial simulator offers students the chance to deliver real-time data to a common center in the midst of their own planned missions.
The title of Top Gun is also up for grabs as trainees go head-to-head in a bracket-style competition fit for Maverick! Other awards include Flag Award (the best for teamwork and activity points combined) and Admirals’ Cup (the best team attitude and knowledge).
Aviation Challenge Mach 3 Elite
Mach 3 Elite is an invitation-only program for students who have completed Mach 3. Open to 17 and 18 year olds, Mach 3 Elite is a super popular program. Candidates need to respond quickly because spots fill up fast. Yes, my son is totally intent on doing Mach 3 Elite.
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