Love the U.S. Space & Rocket Center? #SaveSpaceCamp now

sunset over an old Space Shuttle in Huntsville
Sunset over an old Space Shuttle in Huntsville. Photo via the U.S. Space & Rocket Center’s Facebook page

Never in a million years would I have imagined the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville and its beloved Space Camp programs could be a casualty of COVID-19. But unless they raise $1.5 million dollars, both will have to close permanently in October. We reached out to people here in Birmingham to find out how Space Camp shaped them and why we all need to do our part to save the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, an irreplaceable national treasure. #SaveSpaceCamp now.

They need to raise $1.5 million before October to keep the doors of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center open

Long story short, according to Ben Chandler, Chairman of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center Foundation and a Space Camp alum:

“…the coronavirus pandemic has devastated our revenue stream, and without your support, we’re on a trajectory to have to close the doors of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center museum, Space Camp and its sister programs sometime in October of this year. Our organization, our beloved Space Camp, and the U.S. Space & Rocket Center museum does not qualify for federal, state or local relief. It’s up to us. We have to save Space Camp. We have to raise $1.5 million by October to ensure that the museum stays operational and so that Space Camp can reopen in the Spring of 2021.”

Go to spacecamp.com to give now.

Why does this matter to Alabama?

We reached out to Dennis Leonard of Birmingham-based EDPA (Economic Development Partnership of Alabama) to find out what more about the impact of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center on the state. Here’s what he said:

“The U.S. Space and Rocket is Center is a shining jewel brilliantly highlighting Alabama’s leadership in winning the first Space Race and in rocketing towards winning the second.

Dr. Wernher Von Braun led 400,000 engineers from Huntsville, in building NASA’s Apollo program, which led to the greatest innovation in the 20th Century, the Apollo 11 Moonshot and landing.

The US Space and Rocket Center pays homage to this otherworldly accomplishment while remaining a symbol of American ingenuity and investment, all solely centered in our great state.

The capital investment made alone in the more than 300 aerospace and defense contractors, the country’s second largest research park, Redstone Arsenal, NASA, and now Blue Origin, Dynetics, and United Launch Alliance is an economic development juggernaut unseen in the rest of the country.”

COVID means revenue is down by 2/3 at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center

#SaveSpaceCamp
#SaveSpaceCamp. Graphic via U.S. Space & Rocket Center’s Facebook page

Here’s how John Nerger, Chair of the Alabama Space Science Exhibit Commission, which is the board that oversees the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, opened today’s press conference:

“The coronavirus pandemic has created a dire situation at our beloved Space & Rocket Center and we are now struggling for our very survival.

We closed in mid-March to comply with state health orders. Our museum opened in late May with limited attendance. Space Camp resumed in late-June at a mere 20% of capacity to abide by safe distancing requirements.

Low attendance has meant a 2/3 reduction in revenue, an amount that means we are not financially viable.”

What’s happening now with Space Camp

Flags at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center
The U.S. Space & Rocket Center is a unique place where kids can learn about the world and what lies beyond. Photo via Sharron Swain for Bham Now

“Space Camp will have to close its week-long programs again in September due to the lack of enrollment from our international students and our school groups.

We continue to seek local, state and federal assistance, but we realize their ability to help is limited. We just cannot afford to wait for someone wearing a cape to swoop in and rescue us.

Therefore, we are doing a couple of things that are essential for protecting the Center, for protecting Space Camp, and making it possible for both to reopen and rise again in 2021.

First, we are cutting costs, drastically. Sadly, this means letting go over 90% of our valued personnel.

Second, we are turning to the public and the community—whether local, in our state, across the country and even overseas—for help, immediate help.That’s why we are launching our Save Space Camp campaign today. The campaign to Save Space Camp must raise a minimum of $1.5m to keep the U.S. Space & Rocket Center open past October, which is when we run out of money, and allow us to reopen Space Camp next April.”

John Nerger

Why it matters

exploring space travel at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center
My husband, kids + a friend exploring space travel at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center last summer. Photo via Sharron Swain for Bham Now

The program here is far too important to both young and old, but especially our young people. Anyone who sees how vital space, science, engineering and education are to the future of this country and even the future of humanity, we simply must save Space Camp. There is no other option.”

John Nerger

Other impacts of a potential closure, according participants at the press conference, include:

  • These programs contribute over $150m worth of spending throughout the state of Alabama, including a number of local companies in Huntsville.
  • Parents of Space Campers usually stay in local hotels and eat at local restaurants—all this revenue goes away if it closes.
  • Losing the Center and Space Camp would be a huge blow to Huntsville at a time when the U.S. is resuming manned space flights.

Space Camp changes lives—1 million and counting

Do you know people who’ve been to Space Camp? With one million alums across the globe, it’s likely that you do. As for me, I’ve never heard anyone say it was anything less than life changing. In fact, it’s the sort of program my husband and I have talked about wanting to send our own kids to one day.

Dennis Leonard of EDPA said this about the importance of Space Camp to our state:

“Space Camp is certainly an economic development attraction and tourism destination. There is only one Space Camp in the US and two others in the world. We attract space campers from all 50 states and 150 countries around the world who are intrigued by space, are motivated by STEM and STEAM education, and who themselves want to be space explorers. If the US Space and Rocket Center, along with Space Camp, were to close, we would lose this youthful engagement, the allure of future students wanting to attend Alabama colleges and universities, and the likelihood of talent attraction for our multidimensional workforce.”

I reached out to two Birmingham-area leaders who are both space camp alums to find out what it means to them, and here is what they said.

Meteorologist Ashley Gann, CBS42

Meteorologist Ashley Gann
Meteorologist Ashley Gann was kind of like the girl in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Space Camp helped make her dreams real. Photo via Meteorologist Ashley Gann’s Facebook page

“The Space and Rocket Center is more to me than a tourist destination. It IS the reason I became a meteorologist. As a middle school student I attended The Space Academy in Huntsville where my eyes were opened to the world of space.

I fell in love with science because of Space Camp. From there, I decided I would like to study earth’s atmosphere and become a meteorologist. Literally, if it wasn’t for Space Camp, I’m not sure I would be where I am today.

I have vivid memories of my missions, my experiences, and my role as CAPCOM (Capsule Communicator) at Space Camp. 

I dream of the day when my kids can attend. At space camp, kids are inspired, taught, challenged, and build lasting friendships. It’s a world class program focused on growing our next generation of leaders, scientists, engineers, and innovators.”

Amanda Stewart Raney, finance industry

Amanda Stewart Raney
Amanda Stewart Raney is another Space Camp Alum. Photo via Amanda Stewart Raney

“In a state that doesn’t have the best reputation for being ‘ahead of the curve’ academically, having NASA, and the Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville has been a huge source of pride.

It has given us a means to put our best foot forward—one of science, innovation, and exploration— to share with the rest of the world through tourism and Space Camp, inviting commerce and investment in our state.

As incredible new innovations are in progress even here in Birmingham, how often we hear the term “moonshot.” “This will be our moonshot.” That turn of phrase carries with it an expectation that science is still important in Alabama—that inspiring our businesses, entrepreneurs, and children to reach for the moon and beyond really matters.

In one incredible place in Alabama children can be inspired, practice teamwork, be exposed to people from around the globe and all the good that entails, and truly experience how math and science apply in daily life. It’s incredible, and it’s RIGHT HERE in our back yard. We should be EXPANDING on that, not contemplating eliminating it.”

The U.S. Space & Rocket Center is such a great place for kids to learn

Kids on a lunar module
My kids getting a taste of what it might be like to drive a lunar module at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center last summer. Photo via Sharron Swain for Bham Now

Who doesn’t have memories of going to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center when they were a kid? What parent doesn’t love watching their own kids hop into lunar modules, eat lunch underneath a Space Shuttle, or enjoy the outdoor rides among real rockets?

Here’s why we need to help save it:

“Alabama’s US Space and Rocket Center is the only facility like it in the US, and it was Dr. Von Braun’s brainchild to challenge young, visiting minds with the center.

We must make a multi-year investment in saving the US Space and Rocket Center to preserve history, immerse visitors and campers in the infinite challenges of space exploration, and retain Alabama’s singular leadership role in leading the space race which now includes the protection of our telecommunications systems, global defense, and scientific achievement.”

Dennis Leonard, EDPA

You can help #SaveSpaceCamp by visiting savespacecamp.com today.