So you’ve got a budding engineer/scientist/astronaut on your hands and you’re considering Space Camp. I was in your shoes a year ago! And I’ve learned some things you can use — from registration to packing to all the little things you pick up along the way that don’t find their way to a website FAQ page. It’s all here — happy exploring!

And for a camper’s perspective –> A First-Time Camper’s Take on Space Camp

{Quick note: I’m not being compensated or endorsed by Space Camp — I’m just a mom. And a fan. So this info is one mom’s take. If you have questions – contact Space Camp. I have found their customer service to be EXCELLENT.}


First things first, here are the basics.

  • Space Camp takes place at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
    • Huntsville is known as Rocket City dating back to the 1950s and a German man named Wernher von Braun — more on that HERE.
  • Space Camp was founded in 1982. (I’m the same age as Space Camp!)
  • Campers can attend starting at age 9. Adult and family camps are offered so there really is no upper age limit.
  • Summer, weeklong camps start on Sunday and end with graduation on Friday.

Registration

  • Register EARLY. I hesitated as we finalized other summer plans and ended up on a waitlist! (Early means January, by the way, if you have a specific week in mind. If your summer is wide open, you could wait a little longer.)
  • I had positive experiences with the staff as we waited and as I had questions about the process. My emails and phone calls were cheerfully answered by actual people — and they were genuinely helpful, responsive and patient. I was impressed with the customer service all around.

Connecting with Other Space Camp Parents

  • I found the Facebook group for parents to be a mixed bag. It was helpful to see the cross-talk of other first-timers and see their questions — some of which I hadn’t thought to ask myself. But the page was also crowded by plenty of questions easily answered by a quick look at the (incredibly thorough) Space Camp website. If you’re looking for firsthand opinions and reviews, the Facebook group will give you that, but it’s mixed in with a dozen parents asking the same questions that have already been answered.
  • Two of the most common – and helpful! – posts were, “my camper is going XYZ week, who wants to connect?” and posts with questions/advice for campers flying into Huntsville solo (which appears to be super common).
  • As camp unfolded throughout the summer, the Facebook group became a place for venting so if you’re a worrier or a nervous parent, take deep breaths as you read frustrations from other parents.

Website

The design is straight outta 1986, but the info is updated in real-time. I found the Space Camp website to be VERY useful. Clicking around before AND after registration is time well spent. Space Camp appears to have invested considerable time and energy into making the website a helpful tool.

Prep

  • You know your kid. So you know what he’ll be worried about or excited about — the things he’s done before and the things that will be new and maybe uncomfortable. Don’t overwhelm, but try to identify the big barriers – and help them feel ready. For example, shower shoes. I had to explain the whole concept to Colt. He laughed at first at the idea of wearing shoes in the shower — he thought I was surely making it up! But we got shower shoes and even practiced with them at home so he’d know what to expect.
  • Space Camp publishes a complete packing list on the website — and we found it to be right on the money. Perhaps the most helpful part of the packing list is what NOT to bring. Space Camp is crystal clear on things like snacks and electronics — we didn’t have to wonder about these rules and expectations.
    • Packing Tip! You’ll find this packing method all over the summer camp interwebs, but I can vouch for packing each day’s clothes in a labeled Ziploc. I anticipated his duffel bag would be a hot mess by Day 3, but knowing all he had to do was find the bag labeled TUESDAY made me pretty sure he’d be wearing clean underwear. (I’m a packing cube advocate so this method was a natural for us. For kids going to camp — this little trick makes things SO EASY.)

  • When it comes to getting there, this will vary widely depending on where you’re coming from, of course. Campers fly in from all over the world, some with their families (who spend the week in/around Huntsville or wander the region during camp) and some alone. I imagine a great many campers are from within 100 miles of Huntsville and it’s a quick drive. We are somewhere in-between — about 530 miles. We made a road trip of it — taking our time and stopping in a few fun places along the way. However you get there, one thing I recommend is to come into town the night before camp, if possible. Week-long camps start on Sundays and getting there on Saturday let us decompress, drive by campus when we got to town, and get one more sleep before getting up fresh and ready the day of camp with all the time in the world to get there without feeling rushed. It means a night in a hotel, but I’d do it again to have that window of time to relax and transition.

Arrival/Check-In

WOW. SO IMPRESSED. Space Camp has this part DOWN. Arrival windows are communicated in pre-camp materials and we found staffers were visible and plentiful and could nearly anticipate what people needed before they even asked. 
  • There are A LOT of campers to get processed into camp in one afternoon so Space Camp requests a single adult accompany each camper (rather than the entire family) through check-in and getting settled into the bunk — but there’s plenty of space and time flexibility for hugs and goodbyes.
  • Campers are photographed and given a wristband that serves as both identification and bank account during the week. Before I pulled out of the parking lot that afternoon, I already had an email confirming his check-in — and featuring the most genuinely happy photograph of him I’ve ever seen, smiling right back at me.

During Camp

  • One of the things we hadn’t considered until seeing a dozen questions about it on the Space Camp Parents Facebook Group — a cellphone. Colt didn’t have a cellphone before Space Camp but we saw the value in it for two reasons:
    • First, to communicate with US. We got a phone call from him each night and we LOVED hearing his excited little voice give us the highlights of the day before lights out — with the sounds of a cabin full of 10-year-old boys in the background. I think a few nights we got little more than — “Today WAS AWESOME. Gotta go!” But we loved being able to hear from him.
    • The second reason we sent him with a phone was to communicate with his new friends – once he got home. The reality is most kids that age have a phone — and he’s been able to keep in contact with a few of the buddies he made that week. I read all the texts and they’ve chatted about the rest of their summers, school starting, which week they’re doing Space Camp next year, and… lots and lots of memes…
  • Space Camp offers a photo package called Bunk1. They only started using it in Summer 2019 after using a different photo company in years past. Like many things, there were good experiences and bad experiences shared about Bunk1 on the Facebook Group so you’ll find people on both ends of the spectrum — mostly driven by their expectations. I thought it was great and I got some really good photos of my camper during the week. There’s a flat fee and you get what you get — so I’m sure if your kid is in a bunch of photos vs just a few, that affects how you feel about the price. I paid $40 and got 16 photos — which I was THRILLED about. The photos start coming after the first few days of camp and they upload more each day, so you get a glimpse into what they’re doing — while they’re at camp. I love this and loved that I didn’t have to wait weeks after camp to get them. It’s all real-time and you can download as many as you like.

The Extras

  • One of the hot topics on the Facebook Group is THE FLIGHT SUIT. Are you getting a flight suit? What size flight suit do I need? Do kids wear the flight suit? Will she be the only one without one? The Flight Suit is a big deal. Honestly, I can’t believe they don’t just wrap the cost of the flight suit into camp tuition and make sure every kid gets one, but alas – it’s an extra. It’s a nice way to involve family and friends if they’re looking to contribute to your camper’s experience — Colt’s flight suit was a gift from family — and they get fitted once they arrive at camp so there are no sizing charts to decipher. They make a great Halloween costume and I saw some posts about kids wearing them to present about Space Camp in their schools and with other groups. Colt said he wore his flight suit a few days during camp, too, which I honestly can’t imagine since it’s a full-body, canvas jumpsuit… in Alabama… in July… It makes me sweat just thinking about it. But the kids don’t care — they love it.
  • One other extra I recommend is the Mission Patch. Each team has a Custom Mission Patch, with the team name and the campers’ names. These resemble genuine NASA mission patches and I can’t imagine what they have to do to get that many custom patches turned around so quickly during the week, but it’s such a cool keepsake — even if you don’t get the Flight Suit.

Quick note: The Flight Suit comes with the Space Camp patch, the Space & Rocket Center patch, and the custom name badge/wings. The Team Hercules mission patch, the Commander’s Cup patch, and the Apollo 11 50th Anniversary patch were all purchased/received separately and sewed on by a fabulous seamstress friend. Colt was at Space Camp during the Apollo 11 50th Anniversary festivities — which was SO COOL and a total coincidence — so he wanted to add that one to his suit.

Graduation/Check-Out

Unfortunately, we had a less than ideal graduation experience — so I’ll update this section next year(!)

We were having breakfast in the hotel, minutes away from heading across the street to see our Space Camper graduate. My phone rang — it was the Space Camp Nurse. Our graduate was being quarantined in Sick Bay, and not able to participate in the graduation ceremony. We all agreed it was a bummer — and DEFINITELY not the way we wanted to end the week — but if you have to get sick, best it be the very last morning, right? He didn’t actually miss a minute of camp activities — except the graduation ceremony itself.

About a week later, we got a packet in the mail with all his graduation materials — including his Commander’s Cup patch! Teams earn points all week for their different activities: mission execution, rocket launch, trivia night, etc. And one team in all of Space Camp wins the Commander’s Cup and the winner is revealed at the graduation ceremony — so we left that morning not knowing! What a surprise!

So. Stay tuned for my take on graduation — Summer 2020. (Because you KNOW he’s going back.)
 

The Debrief

I think he’d decided he wanted to go back for a second summer even before he went the first time, but that was solidified after his first Space Camp experience.
  • Be sure to take advantage of the Space Camp Alumni Discount if you’re looking to register for a second round. We got an email about this and had signed up for Summer 2020 before August.
  • During camp, the kids learn about the other camps offered on campus during the summer. Beyond Space Camp proper (ages 9-11), there are options including: Space Academy (ages 12-18), Aviation Challenge (ages 9-18), Robotics (ages 9-14), and Cyber Camp (ages 15-18). And then there are Family Camps and Day Camps and Educator Camps — Space Camp is literally for everyone.
  • I mentioned he came home sick from the last day of camp, but even beyond getting sick — camp wore him OUT. He’s an active kid who travels often and spends his summers at camps and activities and sports and more — and Space Camp absolutely exhausted him. I was grateful we hadn’t planned anything for the week after camp because he spent it mostly on the couch resting. Camp squeezes every drop out of every day with some late-ish nights and early mornings — so keep that in mind when planning the balance of your summer. Your camper will likely welcome a few days of recuperation and rest post-Space Camp!
My thoughts on Space Camp are only half the story — don’t forget to check out what my camper had to say!
Click here for A First-Time Camper’s Take on Space Camp.

5 thoughts on “A Mom’s Guide to Space Camp

  1. Great summary all around. I hate that your son missed graduation, I hope he wasn’t too sick. My daughter went to space camp in 2012, 14 and 18 and they’ve really made changes. I’ve blogged each of her visits. We used to get a CD (later a flash drive) with tons of photos. The trainers took the pictures so they were just snapshot quality but lots of them, you might have 30 with your child in them. When we went back in 18, they had hired Magic Memories and it was a hot mess, you were lucky to get two. I think I got five. They took one team photo and it was out of focus. I think they’ve worked on that some. They also changed up graduation and I was disappointed about that. They ran through Academy and Advanced Academy at the same time, I do mean “ran them through”. Previously they did one program at a time (although her Space Camp graduation included Robotics but there weren’t a whole of graduates) and had the day trainer for each team talk a little about what they did during the week and each team stood on the stage and it was a little more personal. Also there wasn’t nearly the mob of parents so you could see. But it’s still nice to have the graduation. Even with some of the things they’ve tried that haven’t worked it’s a great experience and I still recommend it to people. Oh, I noticed there’s a not a wings pin on his flight suit? Did they not include it in his graduation package?

    1. I really got the impression they were trying some things, and genuinely looking for feedback. I wonder if Space Camp is going through a transition to really find what will work in the next chapter — not sure. I went when I was in 5th Grade, but it was so long ago I couldn’t tell you what has changed and what has stayed consistent!

      And no! I don’t think we got a wings pin! I’ll have to ask my kiddo about it — I’m sure I could get one, if not!

      1. I think they’ve gotten a new director the last couple of years. It was just a shock all the changes between 2012 and 2107, be glad you missed the Smarmory mess! Ask about the pins, if you didn’t get them, camp will mail them out. My brother went to Space Camp in 1988 in Florida, when they had it in three locations (they also had it in California). That was back when everyone wanted to be an astronaut. For photos they just took lots of pictures, ran them over to the one-hour place and at graduation you flipped through them all, founds the ones of your child and bought them individually. There were several of my brother on the MAT and my mother never did catch onto what was going on and put them in the scrapbook upside down, not noticing that the trainer standing next to him was upside down. I shared those on the FB parents page. And you’re right about that page, but it’s been helpful, I wish it had been around in 2010 for our first go-round.

  2. Wow, thanks this is so helpful!

    Leigh Anne – to those long posts? I would be Curious to see your daughters experience even if it’s out of date.

  3. Love this blog post! Thank you so much for taking the time to share it.
    Your packing is so clever! Is it just one set of changing?

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