The dream of going to space is a common fantasy shared by children (and adults) alike. And for those of us who grew up in the 1980’s and watched the Space Camp Movie, actually attending Space Camp as a camper was another dream. Fast forward to being a dad with a dwarf son who is a space/rocket/jet/missile/airplane fanatic and learning about Space Camp for Little People! We just knew this was something we had to provide for our son (ok, and for dad as well). We just got back from attending and our mini review is below.
The Space Camp Experience
Overall, Space Camp is loads of fun for the campers and adult chaperones. Space Camp for Little People is an abbreviated (3 day, 2 night) version of the regular Space Camp attended by kids 9 years and older. This special space camp occurs over the weekend and each dwarf child is accompanied by one parent. While it only lasts a few days, the smaller group size allows for less down time waiting so we were able to enjoy most of the regular camp experience. Space Camp is located on the grounds of the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
Arriving at Space Camp
You’ll want to arrive in Huntsville the day prior to Space Camp to ensure on-time arrival for registration! The Huntsville Marriott is basically on the grounds of Space Camp (within walking distance) and has affordable nightly rates. The rooms are decent and they have a reasonable breakfast buffet available in the restaurant.
Clothing for Space Camp
Most of the kids and parents wore matching astronaut flight-suits for the duration of Space Camp. While the flight suit is optional, it is a really fun way to add to the experience. And I was actually approached for questions by museum visitors a couple times since they thought I was an employee! You can buy flight suits at the Space Camp gift shop, but for short children and adults you’ll want to buy them ahead of time so the arms and legs can be altered. For the children, they are available online in Size 2T-3T, Size 4-6, Size 6-8, and Size 8-10. For the adults, they are available in just two sizes Adult Small and Adult Large. The flight suits also work great as a Halloween costume!direct from Aeromax Toys. The flight suit will be much cheaper, though, ordering from Amazon. You can also buy a real name tag just like the astronauts wear (with a velcro backing) at the Space & Rocket Center Gift Shop for $5.
Space Camp Room and Board
The Space Camp facility looks just like it did in the movie (seriously, I don’t think they’ve refurbished or changed anything since the 1980’s). The camp has two separate Habitats containing dorm-style rooms with 7 bunk beds. Each of the children and their parents had one of these rooms to themselves instead of having to share with other campers. At the end of the hall on each floor, Waste Management (a clever name for the restrooms and shower facilities) are also shared. The bedroom and restroom facilities are probably the only disappointment from the weekend, as they obviously haven’t been refurbished in many years, if ever. But camp isn’t supposed to be about comfortable beds and new bathrooms, right? If only our son didn’t insist on sharing the twin bed with dad when there were so many other beds available! Since the beds are twin size, you may face a tight squeeze if your child isn’t ready to sleep on their own in an unfamiliar place.
Meals are included in the cost of registration and are served cafeteria style. The food wasn’t too bad and I’ve definitely had a lot worse. Dinners were spaghetti for the first night and chicken the second night. Breakfasts included scrambled eggs and sausage biscuits. Lunch on Saturday was a hamburger but they curiously only served the patty and a bun (no lettuce, tomato, etc.). Our counselor said they had never seen this happen before. That day there was a lot of school students on site for a math competition and the cafeteria staff said they didn’t open the toppings bar to help reduce the waiting time for the food. Oh well. Milk and juice are offered and soda dispensers (Coke brands, whoo-hoo!) are available for lunch and dinner. A salad bar is available at dinner and small ice cream cups are available for dessert.
The Rocket Launch!
Our son’s favorite activity was definitely the rocket launch. Each child and parent built their own model rocket the first night, a custom model with Space Camp stickers similar to the Estes Nova Payloader. Space Camp has a huge grass field dedicated to launching model rockets and two huge launching bays capable of holding 30 rockets. Sadly they only launched one rocket at a time for obvious safety reasons. The launching ground is surrounded by many tall trees that are hilariously decorated with model rockets that sadly met their demise by never making it to the ground after launch (a fate suffered by both son’s and dad’s rockets). Since our son’s rocket was lost, the Estes Tandem-X Launch Set looks like it might be perfect for a Christmas/Hanukkah/Birthday gift. It’s been quite a while since I launched my own model rockets, but I think you need to purchase the engine, recovery wadding, igniters, and igniter plugs separately. Space Camp used the Estes Educator Bulk Pack which is a significant cost savings if you will be launching many times.
Space Camp Simulators
Dad’s favorite part of Space Camp was the large building with various simulators:
- The MAT (Multi Axis Trainer) simulates disorientation by spinning in multiple directions (turn, pitch, and yaw). The original version designed for the Mercury astronauts gave them 30 seconds to stabilize themeselves using a joystick, but the Space Camp simluator has no control. A fun factoid we learned is the joystick on the MAT shown in the Space Camp movie was a non-functioning prop. The adults and larger children enjoyed this simulator immediately after eating, and thankfully nobody lost their dinner. Supposedly it’s impossible to get sick since the center of gravity does not move and you theoretically will never spin more than 2 times in the same direction.
- The 1/6th Gravity Simulator hangs from the ceiling and the trainee jumps and hops over a mock moon terrain. I think the counselors intentionally do not let your feet lay flat on the floor to prevent you from doing a full force jump, because you can go really high easily on this chair. The chairs are tethered onto a leash so they can pull you back in case the rider starts getting too wild and crazy.
- The MMU (Manned Maneuvering Unit) simulates a EVA, commonly known as a spacewalk. This chair rides on air (kind of like a puck on an air hockey table) to create a frictionless environment. The younger kids enjoyed this ride, although some of them didn’t like the feeling when they moved the chair to the side so they were angled toward the ground.
- The 5DF Chair simulates 5 degrees of freedom (forward/backward, roll, yaw, side-to-side, and pitch) in a frictionless environment. This chair also rides on air and demonstrates Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion: push against an object and you’ll move the opposite direction. In space there is actually an extra degree of freedom: up/down.
Rides at Space Camp
Space Camp (actually the Space & Rocket Center Museum) has a couple amusement-park style rides that are educational as well.
- Space Shot is similar to a free-fall type ride and allows the rider to experience 4G’s on acceleration and a couple seconds of weightlessness before free-falling down. Riders must be 54″ tall, but the facilities have a smaller version for the younger kids (this ride has more of a frequent up/down motion that might be concerning for the neck area of some dwarf children).
- G-Force is just like the Gravitron ride from carnivals where you lean back against the wall while the ride spins very fast, you experience 3G’s and the centrifugal force causes the riders (along with the panels they are leaning on) to climb up to the top of the ride.
Space and Rocket Center Museum
Part of the activities include several educational sessions where the camp counselor talks about the history of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions as well as learning about the Space Shuttle. Some time is also spent at the Space and Rocket Center museum. The awesome exhibits include a Saturn V rocket prototype (displayed horizontally which allows you to experience how large it is by walking beneath it), the actual Apollo 16 command module, Apollo 12 moon rock, the original Mercury and Gemini capsule trainers, fragment of the Skylab, Lockheed A-12 Blackbird, and much more. Also located on the grounds is the burial ground for Miss Baker, one of the two monkeys sent into space and returned alive in 1959. We placed a banana on top of her memorial that was signed by each member of our group.
Safety of your LP Child at Space Camp
The children are not forced to do any activity they are not comfortable with (our son did not want to try any of the rides). Moreover, your child’s parent/chaperone will always be there to ensure their safety. The two main rides (Space Shot and G-Force) have height requirements and most dwarf children will not be tall enough. The simulators are all very safe and only the MAT has extreme movement.
Overall Space-Camp Impression
A Space Camp review in one word: awesome! Our son is already talking about attending again. Space Camp for Little People happens once a year and we highly recommend it for your dwarf child (and the inner child of your child’s parent). We’ll definitely return in the future, although we may pick up a mattress topper and pillow at the local Target on the way. You may also wish to bring your own bedding to supplement the camp-style sheets, blanket and pillow cover along with flip-flops for the shower.
As of 2015, the Space Camp for Little People program has apparently been discontinued or on indefinite hiatus. Space Camp also has special programs for deaf children and for those with visual impairments.