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U.S. Space & Rocket Center CEO highlights new programs, projects blasting off in 2022

Published: Feb. 4, 2022 at 7:58 AM CST
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - 3, 2, 1...blast off! The U.S. Space and Rocket Center has big plans for 2022 after serious losses during the pandemic. Thanks to many donors and funding efforts from city and county leaders, the historic landmark is finally looking ahead and preparing for new adventures!

Executive Director and CEO Dr. Kimberly Robinson said leaders are now in the process of creating a facilities master plan to outline all of the major projects underway and renovations happening at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.

“The focus has shifted somewhat from just helping us survive to really helping us thrive into the future,” she said.

One project that’s thriving is construction of the Space Camp Operations Center. In October, leaders broke ground on the 40,600-square-foot building that will serve as a permanent home for U.S. Cyber Camp and support all space camp programs in Rocket City. The massive, innovative building will have a 1,000-seat auditorium and ten classrooms. Robinson said it will also have three massive video screens, one on the inside and two on the outside.

The U.S. Space and Rocket Center hasn’t had a new building on campus since the Davidson Center in 2008. Robinson believes the new building will be the front door to Rocket City, and a special welcome to the thousands of space campers they see each week.

“It’s extremely forward looking. The outside of the building will be 3D printed, like the Lunar Surface…and it’s going to be our welcome center for families that come to be part of Space Camp from all over the world,” Robinson said. “So we really want to show it off and we want to have a wonderful place for them to come and gather and get their first taste of our great city.”

The Space Camp Operations Center is set to be finished by the end of 2022.

The Pathfinder Restoration Project is also moving along at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. Last year, leaders lifted the Pathfinder shuttle orbiter off the external tank, where it had been on display for more than 30 years. This project involves removing external pieces off Pathfinder and completing structural assessments. Team members are also evaluating the interior structure of the orbiter.

WAFF's Kellie Miller reporting

“We are planning to 3D print the exterior cover of our shuttle orbiter prior to putting it back on the stack,” Robinson said. “We are the only place in the world currently to have a fully stacked shuttle. So we want that to get refurbished, and we want it to last for another 50 years.”

Robinson said this is a multi-year, multi-million-dollar project.

The U.S. Space & Rocket Center is focusing on other areas at the historic landmark as well. For example, there are plans to redo Rocket Park in the heart of campus. The goal is to give the outdoor area a little more color and green space for community members to enjoy.

“More green space, more meeting space and gathering space for the community,” Robinson said. “We can’t wait to break ground and get that rolling hopefully by summer.”

In addition to physically updating campus, leaders are also ensuring there are new and exciting programs for all ages. In December 2021, the U.S. Space & Rocket Center held its first-ever Leadership, Inspiration, Focus and Teamwork (LIFT) Academy for young adults.

The program is designed to help young adults transition from high school to college or the workforce, and ultimately help launch their careers. Students learn about building their personal brand, gain techniques for interviews and networking, and meet industry professionals.

“We had astronaut “Hoot” Gibson come in and he did a wonderful presentation talking about the problems they encountered on the space shuttle and how they were able to overcome them,” Robinson said. “It was really a lesson in how to handle the hurdles that are going to be thrown your way in life, and how to use them for growth and for opportunities.”

Robinson said the LIFT Academy will be offered again in April because of its success and big turnout.

In June, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center will be celebrating its 40th anniversary of Space Camp! Robinson said it’s going to be a wonderful community celebration that everybody can look forward to.

“We are the largest camp in a single location in the world,” she said. “To have existed for 40 years and to still have the demand that we have for our programs is just wonderful.”

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