Why on Earth is Space Camp in Alabama?

At Space Camp, young people train like astronauts. Using high-tech simulators and learning from experts, they live and work as a team to plan a mission to Mars and beyond.

But this incubator of interplanetary innovation isn’t located in the obvious space places like Houston or Cape Canaveral, Fla.

It’s in Huntsville, Ala.

I wanted to find out why, so I chatted with Pat Ammons, Space Camp’s director of communications.

Just like during my week at Space Camp 23 years ago, I learned a whole lot in a short amount of time.

Dr. Wernher von Braun (center), the Director of NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, and President John F. Kennedy at Cape Canaveral, Fla. on Nov. 16, 1963.

Dr. von Braun moves to Alabama

Before he became a pioneer of space exploration, Wernher von Braun helped the U.S. Army develop ballistic missiles.

In 1950, that job took him from El Paso, Texas, to an army post in Huntsville, Ala. 

In the years that followed in Huntsville, von Braun’s role transitioned. He moved from creating weapons of war to developing tools for space travel.

He developed launch vehicles for NASA and, in doing so, transformed Huntsville from the “Watercress Capital of the World” into a hub of technological innovation.

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville opened in 1960 and is still fully operational today.

Huntsville plays part in space program’s history …

It’s in Huntsville that:

  • Rockets were developed that put the first U.S. satellite into orbit and sent men to the moon.
  • Propulsion for the space shuttle was developed.
  • Modules for the International Space Station were designed and built.

… and its future

America’s next great ship — the Space Launch System — is being designed in Huntsville.

Moreover, all science missions on the International Space Station are monitored around-the-clock at the Payload Operations Integration Center at Marshall.

Today, Huntsville has America’s second-largest research park and boasts a population where almost 40 percent has a college degree. Some say Huntsville owes much of that growth to von Braun.

“He convinced [NASA] headquarters that big contracts should be awarded out of Huntsville,” said Ed Buckbee, NASA public relations officer in the 1960s. “That was a big change.”

Space Camp finds its home

The U.S. Space & Rocket Center, which opened in 1970, is a museum that showcases the space program’s past, present and future.

Space Camp opened there in 1982, the realization of Dr. von Braun’s idea of creating a program to get young people excited about space exploration.

To date, more than 18 million people have visited the Rocket Center and young people from around the world participate in Space Camp and its sister programs, Aviation Challenge Camp and Space Camp Robotics.

Space Camp, like Scouting, delivers hands-on STEM experiences to young people. And it’s all happening in Huntsville.

Learn more and plan your daughter’s or son’s Space Camp adventure at spacecamp.com.