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Tag: Space Camp

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!

Finding new friends and new service

Sometimes you find kindred spirits in the most unusual places. This summer, Space Camp made a few new friends starting with an email, extending to a phone call, then several emails and phone calls before finally resolving in the restoration of a prized Aviation Challenge simulator.

The search to replace the 9D5 helo dunker used at the Aviation Challenge complex for water egress training meant reaching out through our network for suggestions. After all, no one on staff is an expert on sourcing a seasoned dunker. Tim Sheehy, AC alum and foundation board member, suggested starting with a reach to Survival Systems USA in Groton, Connecticut.

This is where the friend-making began and how a 9D5 helo dunker that saw years of service at Naval Air Station Patuxent River now rests at the Rocket Center for a new tour of duty. Survival Systems (take a look at the super cool things they create) was founded by a remarkable man by the name of Albert Bohemier. For 40 years, Bohemier has enhanced and preserved workers’ lives through safety education, training technologies and applied research and development. This especially includes aircrew from around the world.

According to Bohemier, “The old 9D5 unit here was from Patuxent River in 2005 which we took back here after we installed the new METS (Modular Egress Training). The contract was turnkey and required us to remove everything old and replace with new.”

This applied to several installations, noted Survival Systems USA president and chief executive officer Maria Hanna. Hanna fielded my initial inquiry and said the Groton facility had a number of the old dunkers some time ago.

But not now. However, she would do some checking.

She quietly went behind the scenes to contact Bohemier who now lives in Nova Scotia. Did he still have the one dunker that accompanied him to Canada?

Fast-forward through elation, calls to logistics professionals, some fund raising to cover shipping costs to mutual satisfaction all around and dunker delivery.

“So what you do is so important and vital in our new world of today and tomorrow as we pass this torch to you all and allow you to fire them up to go beyond into the new Space Frontier. Old geezers like me will soon be at high altitude floating as cosmic dust and watching this from space.” Albert Bohemier

The Enduring Value of Space Camp

As Alabama’s Commerce Secretary, I know how critically important it is for us to prepare our school children for the careers of the future, including rewarding ones in STEM fields. It’s no secret that occupations in science, technology, engineering and math pay big rewards in terms of higher-than-average pay and upward mobility. That’s why it is vital that pathways to STEM careers are available to young people across Alabama. One of the most successful and durable is the Space Camp program at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville. Launched in 1982, Space Camp instantly became a pioneering effort to encourage youngsters to explore careers in STEM fields — long before the commonly used acronym had even been coined. From the start, Space Camp’s mission has been to create excitement, introduce possibilities and stimulate imagination in the minds of young people. In so doing, Space Camp became one of the first workforce development pipeline programs in Alabama to support STEM fields.

Thanks to Space Camp and other educational programs, the Space & Rocket Center has been a remarkable asset for the state and its young people. The Rocket Center’s doors opened in 1970, meaning its 50th anniversary went largely unnoticed last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Because the Rocket Center did not qualify for government assistance, the pandemic delivered a painful financial blow; thankfully, generous donors stepped in to help.) After Space Camp, the Rocket Center launched the Aviation Challenge and Robotics Camp, programs that also capture the curiosity of young people and act as a STEM career pathway. The Rocket Center is currently involved in the planning of a new building to support U.S. Cyber Camp, a program based on the Space Camp model that raises awareness of degrees and careers in cybersecurity. Alabama Governor Kay Ivey backed this effort with a $10 million grant, underscoring the significance of this occupational field.

Over the years, thousands of Alabama school children have joined other youngsters from around the U.S. and the world for the stimulating activities at Space Camp. For these kids, the program has been loads of fun, but it has also served a deeper, more long-lasting function. Throughout its history, Space Camp has inspired dreams and encouraged the next generation of thinkers to pursue goals that might have gone unimagined, to explore opportunities that might have gone undetected. I believe that is the enduring value of the Space Camp program, and I look forward to seeing it continue to launch countless voyages of discovery.

Camp Catch-Up!

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.