Houston, we have a problem.

I was in command of the Space Shuttle Enterprise on final approach to Cape Canaveral when warning lights and sirens filled the cockpit. I looked over at my pilot and he seemed bewildered as he flipped through his manual.

Houston, what were you thinking when you stuffed this husband and wife into a cockpit together? This could get ugly. Good thing we were only “flying” a simulator at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center’s Adult Space Camp.

Most people have heard about space camp, the science program for elementary and high school students. With the movie “The Mars Generation” scheduled to air this spring on Netflix, we will be hearing a lot more. The documentary follows a group of teenagers through space camp.

But space camp is not just for kids. Adults also can experience the thrill of space at the iconic Huntsville, Alabama, camp.

Space camp is the brain child of German rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, who led the U.S. space program to its first manned landing on the moon in 1969. After World War II, Von Braun and other German scientists were relocated to the Redstone Army Arsenal in Huntsville, where they developed and tested rockets at what is now NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

Recognizing the need to educate Americans about space exploration, Von Braun inspired the creation of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, which opened in 1970 on Redstone land. A decade later, he helped found space camp for students 9 years of age and older. And in 1990, space camp opened its doors to the “young at heart” by offering three- and four-day adult and family camps. Go to www.spacecamp.com for details.

This would-be astronaut and her husband, Jack, recently attended a special two-day space camp offered through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. After we arrived on a Thursday afternoon, we toured the Severe Weather Institute and ate dinner with our group, before checking into the nearby Huntsville Marriott. (No, we did not sleep in space camp dorms and bunks.)

The next morning, we assembled at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center for breakfast, mission assignments and training, before spending the next two hours flying simulated space ships, donning space suits, performing robotic maneuvers and manning “mission control.”

Surprisingly, the day was more stressful than I had imagined, as we all were expected to work as teams to handle “life and death” emergencies, with “Houston” calling the shots. Lunch was followed by a retired rocket scientist’s guided tour of the Davidson Center, which houses a massive Apollo-era Saturn V rocket. After graduation, most people rushed to a nearby airport to catch flights home.

Pat Ammons, the center’s communications director, said people who attend adult space camp generally fall into three categories – people living out their childhood dreams, people fascinated by space and teachers.

“One teacher can come here and return as inspiration,” she said. They can give students “the spark they need” to pursue the sciences and math required to someday open deep space.

Especially popular are the center’s family camps – two, three or more family members sharing the experience, including living in the dorms.

“We get a lot of fathers and sons, grandparents and their grandchildren, uncles and aunts,” Ammons said. Adult space camps are offered year-round.

Whether you want to fulfill a lifelong dream or better understand U.S. space exploration, adult space camp is a kick in the pants and worth a trip to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. 

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