The following feature appears in the November 2016 issue of NYLON.
You can’t miss it—the Saturn I test vehicle rises high above the trees, stark white against the blue Southern sky. Its home is the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, located just outside of Huntsville, Alabama. But why, you ask, is there a rocket center in rural northern Alabama? Well, there’s a nearby former chemical arsenal and munitions factory that was built for World War II, the perfect site for the scientists and engineers brought to the U.S. to work on America’s space program after the war. But the simplest answer is, there was plenty of room here. So America built something.
The U.S. Space & Rocket Center, as anyone who drew a childhood breath in the ’80s or early ’90s knows, is also the home of Space Camp. The youth camp officially opened in 1982, an adult version launched in 1985, and the basics are this: You receive a jumpsuit, simulate being an astronaut, and get to use a machine that makes you feel like you’re bouncing on the moon.
I was a camper here when I was six, and now I have found myself back again, because apparently you’re never too old for Space Camp. This session, my fellow campers are from all over the United States: Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia, California, Arizona, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania are all represented. This is not an unusual mix—Space Camp draws in people from all 50 states (and almost 70 other countries) every single year. I suppose the appeal of Space Camp makes sense considering our country’s eternal pride in and fascination with our space program, dating back to the space race of the mid-20th century. America has always celebrated its innovative, pioneering spirit, and few things embody that quite like our scientific forays into the universe’s great unknown.
As the first order of business, we are split into two groups, Team Challenger and Team Columbia. My team, Columbia, includes a young engaged couple, a pair of sisters, a documentarian who looks so much like Parker Posey I do a double take, several co-workers on a team-building excursion, and a young man crossing a life goal off his bucket list. Team Columbia is fearlessly led by Monique Davis, who has been an instructor at the camp for five years.
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