Dec 7, 2020 | Robin Soprano
As the U.S. Space & Rocket Center faced economic disaster because of the COVID-19 pandemic, our loyal supporters and camp alumni around the world turned out in force for the Save Space Camp campaign. Thankfully, we live to fight another day. While our fundraising campaign continues, the center did not have to close its doors permanently this fall, and we were able to operate Space Camp for a short period this summer.
So how did we did we manage camp in the middle of a pandemic?
Once the Alabama Public Health Department determined camp programs could reopen, our leadership team spent hours reviewing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and the American Camps Association to adjust our program to meet the health department’s strict guidelines. We were worried we could not offer the same impactful and immersive experience or conduct missions with masks and social distancing.
However, our team agreed we could find a way to make Space Camp work and found creative ways to face every challenge. With a plan in place, we brought in some dedicated Space Camp alumni to test new missions and give feedback before our first trainees, a small group of Alabama educators, arrived. The result was positive. It worked!
After shutting down for three months, Space Camp reopened on June 28 at about 25 percent capacity. Over nine weeks, we hosted around 1,200 trainees, providing the only taste of “normal” many had all summer. They were able to be children without the constant chatter of doom and gloom news, and they were able get away from the family they had been quarantined with for months. We had fun and learned a lot in the process.
Everyone, staff included, was happy to be at Space Camp, and we had few problems with compliance to wearing masks or social distancing. We met the requirements of the health department, and maintained the essence of Space Camp, the “magic sauce” of teambuilding, collaboration, communication and critical-thinking skills that make up our immersive experience. Even with a pandemic, our Space Camp trainees had a week that was part fun and part serious science and history.
So, what’s new for 2021? COVID hasn’t gone away, so we are making plans to return in 2021 at only 50 percent capacity. Once again, we are reviewing all Alabama Public Health orders and CDC guidance on how to safely accommodate that many children. We are reviewing our established COVID protocols and looking for opportunities to make every camp experience, even in a COVID world, the best experience we can offer.
We had to make some difficult decisions in 2020, which included not running Space Camp Robotics or Aviation Challenge to operate as safely and efficiently as possible. We wanted our lean leadership team to be able to focus solely on our core space program.
While Space Camp Robotics will remain on hold for 2021, we are bringing back Aviation Challenge and will celebrate 30 years of the program 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 needed updates to the Aviation Challenge program facilities.
We are also expanding our U.S. Cyber Camp program to include a middle school camp, and we have new partnerships with the FBI and Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering going into 2021. These important partnerships will help us continue to grow a program that will help meet a critical need for cyber security in all business sectors and most specifically in the space and aviation realm.
We are grateful to the almost 9,000 individuals and corporations who donated to save our beloved camp programs. Their support for what we have always believed is staggering. Our work here is important. Space Camp is educational and fun, and it is truly work force 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.
Vice President Special Programs
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