Reading about our country’s missions to space? That’s a small step toward understanding the people power involved.
Experiencing those missions yourself, seeing the actual rockets towering above you and chatting with people passionate about space exploration? That’s a giant leap toward inspiring a young person for life.
Hands-on STEM experiences are what Space Camp is all about.
Like Scouting, the program puts young people in an environment where all five senses are engaged and learning comes naturally.
A Boy Scout troop or Venturing crew acquires leadership skills in the context of a fun weekend campout. Similarly, a Space Camp team gains STEM skills and inspiration outside of the classroom.
Dr. Kay Taylor, Space Camp’s director of education, says Space Camp recognizes the benefit of formal education. The goal isn’t supplanting formal schooling; it’s supplementing it.
“If you have a child who is curious, who questions, who wants to know,” she says, “this is a great environment for that child.”
I met with Dr. Taylor to get a closer look at Space Camp, the ways in which its mission and Scouting’s mission parallel, and to learn how their STEM education has evolved since I attended more than 20 years ago. If you like what you see, find info on Space Camp’s Black Friday weekend sale at the end of the post.
A bright future for Scouts in STEM
STEM has become such a buzzword that you probably don’t need reminding what it stands for: science, technology, engineering and math.
But it’s worth repeating that STEM jobs are in high demand. Jobs that didn’t exist a generation ago, like software engineers, can now earn $100,000 a year or more right away.
Taylor says Space Camp wants to address the “very serious reality of not enough kids going into STEM-based careers” by introducing young people to exciting, well-paying jobs.
Pat Ammons, Space Camp’s director of communications, agrees.
“We want them to see a practical application for something they enjoy doing,” she says. “They might never have known that a career like that existed.”
Experiencing is believing
Learning with all five senses means more than just memorizing dates and names.
It means examining historic artifacts, spinning around on a multi-axis trainer and exploring a model of the International Space Station.
The goal isn’t necessarily training the next Neil Armstrong. It’s more about inspiring the next, say, Elizabeth Bierman.
Bierman is a past president of the Society of Women Engineers. But before that, she was a Space Camp graduate.
“She didn’t know any engineers,” Ammons says. “She said, ‘when I came to Space Camp, I realized that what I really wanted to do was solve problems,’ and that’s what engineers do. They’re problem solvers.”
“They don’t have to leave here thinking I want to be an astronaut,” Taylor adds. “I certainly hope they leave here thinking I want to be the best — fill in the blank — that I can be.”
Scouting and Space Camp
The link between Scouting and the space program has been well documented.
Less known but equally potent is the longstanding relationship between Scouting and Space Camp, part of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala.
“When you look at the history of Scouting, it has always sought to develop the best Scout mind, the best heart and the best sense of duty,” Taylor says. “Here at Space Camp, we look at those same factors. We want to engage them with an experience that is as authentically and rigorously embedded in something bigger than the every day.”
Then there’s the more practical alignment, like merit badges. Depending on which weekend or weeklong program they choose, Boy Scouts can earn or work toward the Space Exploration, Aviation or Robotics merit badge.
But even more valuable that a completed blue card is the ability to become embedded in the space program. As a 1995 Space Camp graduate myself, I can tell you It’s impossible to leave and not be inspired.
“The story of space is some of the most dramatic stories in human history,” Taylor says. “It’s this amazing story where people come together from all walks of life and do the unimaginable.”
Our daughter went to Space Camp at the KSC in 1990 and had a blast. The experience started her on the road to the Air Force Academy where she graduated with a biochemistry degree.
BTW, many of the counselors in Space Camp are Eagle Scouts or Gold Award Girl Scouts. The U.S. Space and Rocket Center (a museum associated with Space Camp, NASA, and the Smithsonian) sponsors our annual Rocket Into Scouting program for new Cubs and many of the counselors help us with building and launching the rockets. They know and love and support Scouting.