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Author: Britain Meithe

New Exhibit Open – Dare to Explore: Frontiers of Space

Dare to Explore: Frontiers of Space is a new and evolving exhibit showcasing current and future technologies of space exploration, such as a 1/10th scale model of ULA’s Vulcan rocket, Boeing’s Starliner Pressure Capsule test vessel, a 1/10th scale model of NASA’s SLS rocket, Blue Origin’s Mannequin Skywalker, and coming soon, Chris Sembroski’s Inspiration4 SpaceX launch and entry suit.

The Vulcan heavy-lift rocket is manufactured in nearby Decatur, and the pressure vessel is the skeleton of the reusable Crew Space Transportation Starliner module that will take crews to lower-Earth-orbit locations such as the International Space Station.

The Helo Dunker Returns!

The helo dunker is an underwater egress training component that is much loved in the Aviation Challenge community, but had to be removed from our program for a time. We’re excited to share that the experience has now returned to Aviation Challenge!

Helo Dunker Arriving USSRC

In 2020, the helo dunker system at the Aviation Challenge lake had to be retired, as the owner of the system asked for it to be taken down. With the financial struggles brought on by COVID-19 and no leads on a potential helo dunker replacement, Aviation Challenge programs ran without a helo dunker during the 2021 season.

Tim Sheehy, owner of Bridger Aerospace, Aviation Challenge alumnus and U.S. Space & Rocket Center Education Foundation board member, knew exactly how important this component was as a part of the Aviation Challenge curriculum and connected our facility with a potential donor that had a helo dunker that met our needed specifications.

This introduction to Albert Bohomeier from Nova Scotia, Canada would prove to have a much needed positive impact on Aviation Challenge program for future summers. Albert was the owner of a retired 9D5 Helo Dunker unit that was decommissioned and kept as a part of a private collection. At a time when he was looking to reduce the size of his collection, he heard about the need for a helo dunker at Aviation Challenge. Through this wonderful connection that Tim Sheehy and Albert Bohomeier made, Albert set plans into motion to have his retired helo dunker donated to Space Camp, to be used at the Aviation Challenge facility.

Helo Dunker in Canada

Since the dunker was located in Canada, this was not an easy feat. There were customs, flatbed trucks, and shipping considerations that all needed to be set into place to bring the helo dunker to Huntsville, Alabama.

Enter another Aviation Challenge alumnus and Huntsville native that wanted to ensure that the dunker would make its way back to Aviation Challenge, J Spencer of Huntsville, Alabama. The helo dunker was one of J’s favorite memories from camp, and he wanted to help ensure that future trainees could enjoy this activity as well. J gave a generous donation to help transport the helo dunker from Canada to Huntsville, and begin the process of getting the dunker installed.

Helo Dunker at USSRC

The dunker has now arrived at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and has been evaluated and brought up to our requirements to be operational. We are excited to have this incredible adventure return to Aviation Challenge!

Artemis I launch viewing party

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft aboard is seen atop a mobile launcher as it rolls out of High Bay 3 of the Vehicle Assembly Building for the first time to Launch Complex 39B, Thursday, March 17, 2022, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

The US Space & Rocket Center is hosting a free public viewing party for the launch of Artemis I next week. This history-making launch is scheduled to happen the morning of Monday, Aug. 29, and everyone is invited to watch! Doors open at 5:30 a.m.

We’ll be showing the Artemis I launch on the giant video wall in the Davidson Center for Space Exploration. This means we’ll be celebrating the launch of NASA’s mission to return explorers to the moon while standing beneath a Saturn V rocket – the rocket that took the first astronauts to the moon in 1969!

Artemis I is being carried by the Space Launch System – NASA’s most powerful launch vehicle. The SLS was designed to bring astronauts, robots, and supplies to the moon for the first time in more than 50 years. This heavy-lift launch vehicle is reconfigurable so that in the future, it can enable NASA to take on missions to other destinations like Mars. The Orion crew capsule will ride atop this giant rocket, bringing its total height to 322 feet tall.

Artemis I is an uncrewed mission that will be traveling farther than any spacecraft built for humans has ever flown. After launch, Artemis I will orbit the Earth before spending two days traveling to the moon. Once there, it will enter a distant retrograde orbit that will take it 40,000 miles beyond the far side of the moon.

Over the course of 42 days, the Artemis I mission’s Orion crew capsule will travel 1.3 million miles before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of San Diego on October 10. The ship’s reentry will be faster and hotter than any spacecraft has ever experienced returning to Earth!

Though no humans will be on board this trip, the Orion Capsule will be carrying Commander Moonikin Campos, a mannequin wearing the Orion Crew Survival System suit. Moonikin is equipped with sensors collecting data on what future human crews might experience.

Artemis I will also be carrying several science experiments, Apollo artifacts, and a stuffed animal of Snoopy. Snoopy will serve as the mission’s zero gravity indicator and will float through the crew capsule once the spacecraft reaches the microgravity of space.

We invite everyone to join us at the US Space & Rocket Center on Aug. 29 to celebrate this momentous launch!

40th Anniversary Celebration- Gallery

The crew of Inspiration4 participate in a panel discussion.
Dr. Sian Proctor is inducted into the Space Camp Hall of Fame.
Peter Marquez is inducted into the Space Camp Hall of Fame.


Alumni from across the United States came to Huntsville June 17, 2022, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Space Camp and induct eight members into the Space Camp Hall of Fame. Nearly 400 guests came dressed in their 1980s attire, as a bow to the 1982 birth year of Space Camp,

New members include:

  • Brian Dudas – Boeing 767-400 First Officer, Delta Airlines (Aviation Challenge counselor, 1992)
  • Derek Hodgins – Strategy & Business Development, Lunar Exploration, Lockheed Martin Space (Space Academy Level I, 1994; Space Academy Level II, 1995; Space Academy Level II, 1996)
  • Peter Marquez – Head of Space Policy at Amazon Web Services (Space Camp 1990)
  • Mandy Vaughn – CEO & Founder at GXO, Inc. – (Space Academy Level I,1990; Space Academy Level II, 1991 and 1992)
  • Inspiration4 Team
    • Jared Isaacman (Aviation Challenge Mach II, 1995)
    • Chris Sembroski (Space Camp counselor 2001)
    • Hayley Arceneaux (Friend of Space Camp)
    • Dr. Sian Proctor (Friend of Space Camp)

Alumni Weekend is set for July 14- 16, 2023

The Rocket Boy – The Story of Homer Hickam Jr.

Originally published on: Mar 17, 2021

Raised in Coalwood, West Virginia, Homer Hickam Jr. began his love of space at an early age. Along with his friends, they named themselves the “Big Creek Missile Agency.” Yet to the town, they were known as “The Rocket Boys,” which became the title of one of Hickam’s best sellers. Although building rockets was a childhood pastime, the excitement of space exploration never left Hickam’s heart.

After going to college at Virginia Tech for an industrial engineering degree, Hickam volunteered to travel to Vietnam as an army engineer. Once his six years with the army were up, Hickam started working with the military’s Aviation and Missile department as an army civilian. It was during this time that he began to learn programming for computers. NASA hired Hickam in 1981 not for his engineering degree, but because he knew how to program computers. As an employee located in their Space Lab corporate office, Hickam automated their laboratory’s systems while learning about the lab in general.

As he started working with the astronauts, Hickam spent the rest of his career training them. This included spending a year in Japan! During his time there, he learned how the Japanese thought of space philosophically. As many American citizens wondered how to get to space, these astronauts considered the question, “What is important about going to space? What’s made you interested in space?” Hickam reflected on their questions and realized he had forgotten his passion of space and its exploration.

With this newfound energy, he began training individuals at the space lab and also assisted in the launch and repair of Hubble, the space telescope that was originally launched in 1990. For Hubble, Hickam and his coworkers began going underwater in suits to simulate being in space. This allowed them to see where different handrails, rooms, and objects needed to be placed for the convenience of the astronauts. This also assisted them in the repairing of Hubble.

Eventually, Hickam became the manager of training for the International Space Station. Since there was existing tension with the Russians from previous wars, Hickam was cautious with the idea. However, he quickly realized they were wonderful to work with, and even got to meet the men who launched Sputnik!

Want to learn more about Homer’s story? Listen to the debut episode of Dare to Explore now, available wherever you listen to podcasts!

Space Camp’s 40th Anniversary celebrates the past and the future!

The crew of Inspiration4 participate in a panel discussion.


The US Space & Rocket Center celebrated Space Camp’s 40th Anniversary on Friday, June 17! It was a day filled with amazing guests, new Hall of Fame inductees, and a grand announcement about the future of the Rocket Center.

The day began with a special press conference in which Rocket Center CEO Dr. Kimberly Robinson welcomed the crew of SpaceX Inspiration4, the first all-civilian crew to go to space.

The Inspiration4 mission raised almost $250 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital during a fundraiser before their flight on September 15, 2021, aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule. The four-person crew had also made a visit to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center before their flight to meet with campers and talk about their mission.

Aviation Challenge graduate and Shift4 Founder/CEO Jared Isaacman led the Inspiration4 mission. Accompanying Isaacman at the morning presentation were his fellow crew members: mission specialist Chris Sembroski, senior analytics engineer for Lockheed Martin and a former Space Camp counselor; medical officer Hayley Arceneaux, a physician’s assistant at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; and mission pilot Dr. Sian Proctor, a geoscience professor.

Following introductions, Dr. Robinson was honored to announce that Isaacman was making a $10 million donation to support Space Camp programs – the largest financial gift in our museum’s history!

The money will be used for a new Inspiration4 Skills Training Center. The planned concept will be a 40,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art hangar-style building featuring space and aviation simulators, an aquatic center, a netted drone space, classrooms, and a challenge course designed for the training of future astronauts, pilots, and engineers! A highlight of the new facility will be the display of an L-39 Black Diamond plane Isaacman is also donating to the Rocket Center.

“We have much to celebrate about our past, but today we are looking to our future for the next 40 years, and we can do that because of partners who invest in our vision and mission, and we have such a partner in Jared and his crew,” Dr. Robinson said.

The Inspiration4 crew also presented Space Camp with a signed flag bearing the mission emblem to be displayed in the new facility, noting that it was flown “past the International Space Station, past the Hubble Telescope, the farthest that humans have been in space for more than 20 years.”

“There are things here you will not find at school, you will not find at your local museum, your computer, your iPad, or your virtual reality headset will never be able to provide,” said Isaacman. “What you’re seeing here at Space camp is a lot of young minds that will someday go on these missions. The Inspiration4 Skills Center is one step along that journey. Space Camp might be located in Huntsville, Alabama, but it’s an asset for the entire nation.”

Friday evening, Space Camp held a Space Camp Hall of Fame Induction Service and Dinner program beneath the Saturn V rocket in the Davidson Center for Space Exploration. Hundreds of past Space Camp attendees, Hall of Fame members, donors, and friends of the Rocket Center were in attendance.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 and 2022 Hall of Fame inductees were all honored at the event.

Dr. Sian Proctor is inducted into the Space Camp Hall of Fame.

The 2020 Space Camp Hall of Fame inductees included Brian Dudas, a first officer for Delta Air Lines and former Aviation Challenge counselor, and Space Camp alumni Mandy Vaughn, CEO and Founder of GXO Inc. Also inducted was Derek Hodgins, Strategy and Business Development, Lunar Exploration, for Lockheed Martin Space and Space Camp alumni. Peter Marquez, Head of Space Policy for Amazon Web Services and Space Camp alumni was the final inductee.

Peter Marquez is inducted into the Space Camp Hall of Fame.

The 2022 Hall of Fame inductees were the Inspiration4 crew members: Isaacman, Sembroski, Arceneaux, and Dr. Proctor.

Following the induction ceremony, TIME magazine Editor at Large and long-time friend of Space Camp Jeffrey Kluger led a panel discussion with the Inspiration4 crew. The crew members shared their thoughts on the Inspiration4 mission, the importance of Space Camp, and the future of space exploration.

After topping off the evening with 40th Anniversary cake, the incredible day came to an end with the promising future of Space Camp on the horizon!

The Archives

When it comes to science, to exploration, and to space, we tend to look forward.

We test our next thesis. We map our next journey. We plan our next mission.

We take one small step forward every single day, but rarely do we pause to think about where we’re stepping from. What mission was accomplished, thesis proven, or journey completed that allowed us to confidently take that next step? What legacy are we a part of?

That’s where the U.S. Space and Rocket Center archives come in. Audrey Glasgow, our manager of collections and curation, works tirelessly to ensure that we preserve our history, so that we can continue to chart our future.

Our archives begin 80 years ago, and run all the way through key pieces of modern space exploration. Audrey’s work only begins with collecting these pivotal pieces of history – the true test is ensuring that they are stored safely for generations to come. Want to learn more about how Audrey protects these cherished artifacts? Click on over to this month’s Explorers Club exclusive video.

So, what exactly do we have in our collection? Well, Audrey’s video tells the full story, but a few of these items include a timer from the German V2 rocket, blueprints that led to the Apollo missions, and even Von Braun’s thesis with his hand-written formulas – possibly the very last copy in existence. (Tune into the video for Von Braun’s notes on what happened with missions – when they went well, and when they didn’t.)

Space exploration will always be fueled by the future. Who we want to be, and who we can become. However, we must be sure to not chase the future at the expense of rooting ourselves in the past. With the lessons of the past, the technology of the present, and the plans of the future, we truly will never stop discovering, learning, and growing.

Daring to Explore What Comes Next

Presented by Lockheed Martin and developed by the Rocket Center’s exhibits team, Dare to Explore: Milestones to Mars highlights historic artifacts from the Center’s collection, as well as exciting new technologies. Lockheed Martin’s proposed lunar ascent stage for the Artemis mission’s return to the moon is showcased. Dare to Explore appeals to a broad audience with displays and activities that examine the past and demonstrate how we will live and work in space as we continue our exploration beyond Earth’s orbit.

“Lockheed Martin’s sponsorship is an expression of the importance of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center’s role inspiring future explorers, and our appreciation and decades-long commitment to Huntsville, NASA, the U.S. Army, and Missile Defense Agency,” said Robert Lightfoot, vice president of strategy and business development at Lockheed Martin Space. “From our work on NASA’s Orion human exploration spacecraft, to the lunar Human Landing System, to supporting every NASA mission to Mars, we are pleased to share our deep understanding of space exploration with the community through this exhibit.”

Highlights from the official opening featuring Kirk Shireman, vice president of lunar exploration campaign, Lockheed Martin Space; Jody Singer, director of NASA Marshall Space Flight Center; and Dr. Kimberly Robinson, executive director and CEO of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.



The U.S. Space & Rocket Center is open
Tuesday – Friday: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Saturday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Sunday: 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Go to for tickets, memberships and additional information

Pathfinder Orbiter Touches Down to Earth

Visitors to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center will find something missing from the Center’s celebrated spaceline. Starting with the wings, then moving to the engines, tail, and fuselage, the Pathfinder orbiter, part of the space shuttle stack displayed for more than 30 years at the Rocket Center, was safely taken to the ground. It was an initial step toward restoring the shine to the world’s only shuttle stack display.

“Our goal is to return this as a point of inspiration and have it looking as good as possible,” said Dr. Kay Taylor, the Center’s vice president of education at a press event. It’s a project expected to take Center officials well into 2023.

According to Louie Ramirez, chief operations officer at the Center, inspections, planning and prep work will consume the remainder of the year and flow into 2022. The restoration and refurbishment include the red iron orbiter frame, solid rocket boosters and external tank. Ramirez said the SRBs and ET will be refurbished in place. Research and options supporting work on the orbiter artifact and construction of an orbiter model are ongoing.

Safety concerns prompted Rocket Center leadership to push forward with this project and outside funding made the move possible. Last year, the Center received a $500,000 matching grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Save America’s Treasures program. The grant, plus generous matching funds from the Sheehy family; Lockheed Martin Corporation; the late Dr. Joyce Neighbors; and The Daniel Foundation of Alabama, enabled work to begin.

“To restore the iconic spaceline, we must raise additional funds,” said Ramirez. He noted that current funding will see the project through its first phase but current estimates suggest another $2.5 million will be required.

To learn more about the Pathfinder project and keep abreast of developments, visit the U.S. Space & Rocket Center Education Foundation’s webpage.

Donor Spotlight – The Sheehy Family, Giving Where Most Needed

The Pathfinder orbiter was so named because it provided a means of preparing for the safe and optimal movement of a real shuttle orbiter. Such test articles advanced NASA’s manned space flight program. A person who supports advancements by showing a path or way forward is also known as a pathfinder. The Sheehy family, represented by donors Matt and Tim Sheehy, epitomizes the term professionally and personally.

In their youth, both men attended camp programs at the Rocket Center and both acknowledged the positive impact of Space Camp and Aviation Challenge. In making generous gifts of $250,000 each, the brothers thoughtfully designated funds to be used where most needed. Between the pandemic and safety-sensitive capital projects, “need” had never been more pronounced at the Center. Their leadership gifts truly represented a godsend.

On a professional basis, Matt Sheehy’s career reflects one of the Rocket Center’s focus areas: energy. As president of Tallgrass Energy based in Leawood, Kansas, this Space Camp alumni guides a strong portfolio of services providing long-term, sustainable value to stakeholders. Tallgrass Energy owns and operates more than 8,300 miles of natural gas pipeline, more than 850 miles of crude pipeline, and more than 350 miles of water pipeline across a broad portion of the U.S. The company also has one of the industry’s leading water reclamation programs situated in close proximity to producers.

“The energy business is in transition,” said Matt. He noted fossil fuels, “while necessary threads of our energy fabric,” are being supplemented by wind, solar and other alternative resources. “New technologies, lower manufacturing costs and regulations are propelling us toward a clean energy future.” He added that children who enjoy math and engineering, and who have entrepreneurial drive will find many opportunities in supporting a cleaner, greener, technologically advanced infrastructure. “A cleaner environment and a planet which we all can enjoy for many millennia is the ultimate outcome.”

For Matt Sheehy, personal philanthropy is a tool to advance societal initiatives. “Space Camp is such a wonderful environment to encourage creativity, innovation, learning and inclusion. Its preservation is critical to the nation’s future leaders and innovators.”
Tim Sheehy is chief executive officer and an active pilot at Bridger Aerospace. Bridger Aerospace is an aerial firefighting service based in Belgrade, Montana and the only full-spectrum aerial firefighting service provider in the United States. Bridger operates best in-class Type 1 Air Attack platforms, Single Engine Air Tankers, CL-415EAF Water Scoopers, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Counter UAS Systems to facilitate an effective and successful firefighting mission.

Before founding Bridger Aerospace in 2015, Tim served his country as a Navy SEAL. He is a recipient of the Bronze Star with Valor and Purple Heart.

According to Tim, his life and actions aren’t guided by any “grand, overarching vision.” He affirmed, “I simply try to leave each place better than I found it, take care of those people and places that need help, and push the edge of the possible in whatever direction is most advantageous for our free and independent western way of life.”

Beyond the scope of western life, a vibrant and dynamic manned space flight program is a must-have, edge-extending reach for Tim. “Voyaging the stars is the most noble calling for mankind, and it’s imperative that a force for good lead the way in that journey, for we have no idea who we could meet along the way.” Tim Sheehy attended both Space Camp and Aviation Challenge programs.

Saluting Our Corporate Sponsors

All systems are GO for Space Camp to open in May. According to Robin Soprano, vice president of camp and operations, Alabama Public Health orders and CDC guidance on how to safely accommodate enrolled trainees are continually monitored to ensure a healthy environment for trainees. “Our established COVID protocols are being reviewed and we are looking for opportunities to make every camp experience, even in a COVID world, the best experience we can offer,” said Soprano.

While Space Camp Robotics will remain on hold for 2021, Aviation Challenge will celebrate 30 years of inspiring youth this summer. “We are thrilled to introduce the first phase of upgrades to our flight simulation bays, including new Mach II simulation software donated by Lockheed Martin. We are also reviewing other updates to the Aviation Challenge program facilities,” said Soprano.

The U.S. Cyber Camp program will be expanded to include a middle school camp. New partnerships with the FBI and Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering will help grow a program toward meeting a critical need for cyber security in all business sectors, and most specifically in the space and aviation realms.

“We are grateful to the almost 9,000 individuals and corporations who donated to save our camp programs. Our work here is important. Space Camp is educational and fun, and it is truly workforce development. Since 1982, Space Camp has been a place where our campers feel a part of something bigger than themselves. No matter what our graduates go on to do in their life’s journey, we know their time at Space Camp will serve them well,” Soprano added.

Saluting Our Corporate Sponsors!

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