A Visit to the United States Space and Rocket Center

July 15, 2014
Home of Redstone Arsenal and the birthplace of the space program, Huntsville, Alabama has much to offer for those looking to the stars.

The history of the United States Space Program has provided most of us with at least one vivid memory that we hold onto, and we can probably remember the exact place we were when that event took place. For the 1960’s, it is most likely when the first human footprint was made on the moon. For the 1970’s, it could be the first joint international human space flight effort. For the 1980’s, it could be when the first U.S. woman, Sally K. Ride, flew in space or when Guion S. Bluford became the first African American astronaut or the tragic loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger and its crew. For the 1990’s, maybe it was the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope from the Space Shuttle Columbia or the Space Shuttle Columbia’s 26th flight led by Air Force Col. Eileen Collins, the first woman to command a Shuttle mission. And for the 2000’s, it could be several events including the tragic loss of Space Shuttle Columbia, the launch of the International Space Station or NASA’s first return to human spaceflight after the Columbia tragedy. And of course, we are all experiencing the current hold on our U.S. Space Program which leads us to the question, will there be opportunity for our students to be a part of a strong, ongoing space program in the future? 

U.S. Space and Rocket Center

Our Science Scene Team was honored to have had the opportunity recently to visit the U.S. Space and Rocket Center (USSRC) in Huntsville, Alabama. Throughout the years, the Space Program at Huntsville has been a strong, educational leg serving participants both nationally and globally. As we sat down with Dr. Julie Finley, Vice President of Educational Initiatives, and Catherine Shelton, Director of Curriculum and Technology, we were assured of the strong, evolving future of the United States Space Program and the importance of educating students at an early age about the disciplines of space training and rocketry. Both Dr. Finley and Catherine are part of an executive staff working hard in designing and implementing plans for the next generation with an emphasis in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) curricula for both formal and informal education.

Home of the original Space Camp program, the USSRC now offers Space Camp, Space Academy, Advanced Space Academy, Aviation Challenge (Mach I, II & III), Robotics Camp/Academy, Educator Camp, Adult Camp, Corporate Camp, and Family Camp in addition to school group tour programs and educational sessions for home schooled students throughout the year. In a 2013 Survey of Space Camp Alumni, it was found that 88% of camp attendees plan to take more STEM classes; 71% are now in a career field related to aerospace, technology, energy, defense or biotechnology; and 66% claimed Space Camp inspired their decision to enter that field. To find out more about the individual camps, please visit the Space Campwebsite.

Space Academy for Educators

Space Camp isn't just for students! The Space Academy for Educators tests your limits training on astronaut simulators and you can take a virtual tour into space where you save the International Space Station. Educators depart from camp with a new global network of friends and lesson plans that are based on NASA content, as well as the expertise to coordinate hands-on STEM activities in your classroom. Plus, you receive 45 hours of continuing education credit! (Graduate credit is available through the University of Alabama Huntsville.) There is also an Advanced Space Academy for Educators that will take you to the next level with scuba in the Underwater Astronaut Trainer and exciting off-site visits to facilities on the cutting edge of space exploration.

Our visit with Dr. Finley and Catherine at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center cannot begin to capture the intense energy, knowledge and actual experience of the space education program. Their excitement is contagious, and we left knowing that the best is yet to come as the USSRC continues to educate, nurture and expose us all to the vastness and limitless beauty of space! Dr. Wernher von Braun, Director of the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) from 1960-1970, said it best: “All one can really leave one’s children is what’s inside their heads. Education, in other words, and not earthly possessions, is the ultimate legacy, the only thing that cannot be taken away.”

Stephanie Miller

With over 25 years experience, Stephanie serves as a senior copywriter, social media director, and senior editor for Science Scene. Stephanie is always on the lookout for new educational and STEM-related opportunities and technology.