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Out Of This World: Adult Space Academy

It’s my first-ever space walk, and I’ve managed to tether my oversized suit to the side of a capsule and keep from spinning in mid-air. But repairing the ammonia tanks on the side of this Mars rover is proving trickier, especially since my helmet keeps fogging up, and the only way to get my hands on the manual dangling from a rope is by reaching out blindly. Somehow, I reattach the right boxes and hoses, but with just two minutes of oxygen left, I can’t get the last bolt to turn. “Help each other,” a technician calls from below, and my fellow mission specialist Gina feels her way toward me. We’re finally lowered to the ground, triumphant if a bit sweaty. “I take back everything bad I said about Sandra Bullock during Gravity,” says Gina. “I know why she was panting!”
Adult Space Academy, in “Rocket City” Huntsville, Alabama, is about as close as you can get to being an astronaut—or at least to playing one on a movie set. Space missions are simulated with Broadway-like wires, your image is transmitted to a TV news–style screen, and the onsite greenhouse bears an eerie resemblance to the one in The Martian. Wernher von Braun, German-born father of the American space program, originally envisioned Space Camp to inspire young imaginations. Since it opened in 1982, five campers have gone on to be astronauts. A protégé of von Braun designed a multi-axis trainer device that sends most campers screaming through a 45-second simulation of a space tumble. Other modules at the academy re-create various aspects of space training, amusement park–style, during a three-day experience ($549). The next session is March 17–19 (check for availability), with additional dates throughout the spring and summer.
The academy’s cafeteria dining has a focus on fresh salads and sometimes includes classic Moon Pies. Adults can bunk in a dorm, but most opt for the onsite Marriott. At graduation, you might consider applying with NASA to be an actual astronaut—or just be satisfied with coming back down to earth.


The U.S. Space & Rocket Center’s biergarten has live music amid real moon rocks.
Huntsville’s Cotton Row Restaurant offers gourmet takes on Southern fare.
The Old Town district’s historic homes sit under towering pecan trees.

Since first joining Indianapolis Monthly in 2000, West has written about a wide range of subjects including crime, history, arts and entertainment, pop culture, politics, and food. His feature stories have twice been noted in the Best American Sports Writing anthology and have received top honors from the Indiana chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. “The Collapse,” West’s account of the 2011 Indiana State Fair tragedy, was a 2013 National City and Regional Magazine Awards finalist in the category of Best Reporting. He lives on the near-east side.