When I was just a boy, a movie came out about a bunch of kids who went into orbit. In retrospect, Space Camp was a pretty star-studded affair, showcasing the budding talents of Lea Thompson, Kelly Preston, Tate Donovan and a young Joaquin Phoenix.

But more than the actors or even the plot, the most exciting aspect was realizing Space Camp is an actual place where real kids go to learn all about being astronauts. That blew my mind.

So years later, when NatGeo invited me to Huntsville, Alabama for a day in connection with the reboot of Cosmos, I jumped at the chance. And of course I brought a camera and GoPro. Here’s a peek inside a wondrous place that still inspires kids today…

space-stationOne of the first things you see upon entering Space Camp is a life-size replica of a space station. It’s where students tackle a multi-stage mission at the end of the program.

space-walkIf you’re going to the moon, you’d better know how to walk on it. That’s just one experience our mentors helped bring to life during the day.

Among the cooler things we got to do was strap into the Multi-Axis Trainer, which basically spins you around in a bunch of different directions. Here’s a short POV video. Please forgive me for giggling like a schoolgirl.

multi-axis-trainer-spinWhat keeps you from getting sick in the MAT, say mentors like Mariah “Mo” Coxen (right), is the fact that your stomach stays in roughly the same place.

To appreciate the science of such rockets, it never hurts to build one—and then launch it high into the atmosphere.

shuttle-thrustersEver wonder just how big a rocket is? One of only three Saturn V rockets is on permanent display at the Davidson Center for Space Exploration, and it’s freakin’ huge. At 363 feet long, it dwarfs the Statue of Liberty by 58 feet.

To simulate weightlessness, Space Camp has a fully functioning scuba center. We learned all the basics of scuba before submerging and discovering that juggling a bowling ball with your feet is actually pretty easy underwater.

colbertYes, there really is a piece of the Space Station called COLBERT, so named after the future Late Show host rallied his fans to help him win an online vote. NASA got a bit cheeky here, creating the acronym Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill for the module.

As mentioned before, the day concludes with a mission, where everyone takes on a role. I served as the CAPCOM, the liasson between Mission Control and Flight Deck. And I’m proud to say we only lost two specialists!

space-camp-certificateAgainst all odds, I earned my wings and a Space Camp certificate from mentor Nathan “Shaggy” Carter. Best part? I got to keep the suit. At the end of an eye-opening day, that’s what you call a Space Camp dream come true.


Spring has sprung, and we are issuing a call to explore new frontiers here on Made Man. Check out Our Guide to Modern Adventure, soak up the inspiration, then get out and blaze your own epic trail.