Published: August 2011
Huntsville Alabama: Rocket Launch To Space Camp  

by Sharon Spence Lieb

At U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, I join a group of adults and kids fascinated by space and aviation. Who knew all the kids in my classes would outsmart me in everything from flying F/A-18 fighter jets, to orienteering with compasses out of the woods?

“OK people,” says crew chief Chris Edwards. “Get real comfy inside your flight simulators. Here’s the drill: Turn your engines on, lower flaps, release the wheel brake, and taxi at 20 knots on the runway. After take off, before reaching 250 knots, raise your landing gear. You’re airborne. Got it? Now let’s talk about how to land your jet. Without crashing.”

I’m trying valiantly to locate all the right switches and flick them on in the right order. Meanwhile, a petite young lady in the next simulator is expertly flying, having the time of her life.

“I thought flying a fighter jet would be scary,” gushes nine year old Rachel Atkeison from Alpharetta, Georgia. “But it’s really awesome.”

Flashing me a Julia Roberts smile, Rachel kindly doesn’t laugh at the senior lady who is slow about flying a fighter jet. Hey, I’ll get it, ok? (By next week.) These whiz kids are savvy and confidence building is what this place is all about. During an intense week of training at Space Camp, the next generation of astronauts and space engineers experience 3 Gs, build a lunar colony, land a rover on Mars, build an interplanetary robot, perform experiments and launch shuttles to the International Space Station. Way cool stuff, believe me.

Aviation and space training can be life changing for  families. “My two sons have gone and I attended twice as an adult,” says one Alumni mom. “One son is a now computer expert, the other a pilot and analytical chemist. And I’ve taken up the hobby of flight.”

Space Camp might be where whiz kids of all ages will launch their dreams.


“Companies like Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and Lockheed Martin have made Huntsville a cutting edge hi tech city,” says Charles Winters, Executive VP, Huntsville/Madison County CVB. “But we’re super family friendly too. Our Botanical Garden invites kids to play with box turtles and enjoy butterflies in the nation’s largest open air Butterfly House. We have a fun filled Early Works Children’s Museum and the educational Sci-Quest Hands on Science Center.”

At Burritt on the Mountain, families learn about Alabama history, visiting houses from 1810-1900, and listening to interpreters dressed in period clothing. The Barnyard sheep, goats, cows and chickens are happy to pose for photos.

I spent a relaxing afternoon among glorious flowers, plants, and whimsical sculptures at The Botanic Gardens. Kids scramble into tree houses, splash in ponds, and let their imaginations soar in forests of glittering trees and dragonflies. This popular year round attraction hosts events like “Dog Days” in winter, “ Scarecrow Trail” in fall, and “Galaxy of Lights” in December.

The Huntsville Museum of Art also focuses on Alabama families. Besides the phenomenal Sellars Collection- 400 works of art by more than 250 women artists from 1850-1940- I was impressed by exhibits of accomplished paintings and prints by Huntsville children, aged 6-18.  Keep your eyes open for the next Matisse or O’Keeffe.


Work up an appetite in Huntsville’s outdoors, through hiking, biking and boating- the Tennessee River is only twelve miles from downtown. Tour the town’s other interesting attractions like the Historic Depot, Alabama Constitution Village, and Harrison Brothers Hardware Store. Check out the cool fashions and fabulous food at Bridge Street Town Centre. Huntsville offers cosmopolitan cuisine with Thai, Indian, Mexican, Japanese, and Italian restaurants, plus comfort food like southern barbecue and fried catfish. At Grill 29, we devoured savory bourbon salmon and decadent molten chocolate; at Surin of Thailand, the spicy curry chicken and coconut soup were delicious. Cotton Row serves excellent sea bass and muscovy duck in a swank bistro.

“Did you know the original preliminary concept drawing for the Lunar Rover was sketched on a napkin in a Huntsville restaurant back in the 1960’s?” Charles Winters tells me over fluffy pancakes and sausage at the Blue Plate Cafe.

I’m not surprised. From Space Camp to Kid Art to innovative international cuisine….creativity is continually unfolding in this hospitable southern town.

Tourism Info:

Marriott Huntsville:

U.S. Space and Rocket Center, and