‘Failure is not an option’

 U.S. Space and Rocket Center launches $1.5M fundraising campaign to prevent permanent closure of museum and Space Camp

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The U.S. Space and Rocket Center drew large crowds during the 2019 celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. (Photo courtesy of NASA.gov)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – The U.S. Space and Rocket Center has been fascinating kids and adults alike, giving the west side of Huntsville one of the most distinct skylines in the United States since its opening in 1970. The museum opened shortly after the second Apollo moon landing, hosted Space Camp for the last 38 years and in 2019 hosted a huge celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing. 

Now, only a few months after marking its own 50th anniversary, the largest space museum in the world, called one of the “seven wonders of America,” could be closing its doors for good.

On July 28, center officials announced that the COVID-19 shutdown in the spring, coupled with extremely limited attendance at the museum and its 38-year-old Space Camp, is facing a $28 million shortfall and seeing the last of its regular funding sources dry up. Officials predict that, without the help of outside donors to raise at least $1.5 million, the museum will run out of money in October and close permanently.

At a broadcast press conference Tuesday, Alabama Space Science Exhibit Commission Chairman John Nerger said, “This morning I will be blunt; I will not mince any words. The coronavirus pandemic has created a dire situation at our beloved Space and 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 two-thirds reduction in revenue, an amount that means we are not financially viable. 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.”

Nerger laid out an aggressive plan of action for saving the space center and camp, including laying off more than 90% of the current workforce and launching the “Save Space Camp” fundraising campaign.

On its Go Fund Me campaign page, officials made this statement:

Space Camp has been on a mission for 38 years to educate and inspire students from all over the world about space and science, but now we need mission support.  

Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, we have seen a dramatic reduction in attendance at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center museum and Space Camp, leading to a significant decrease in revenue and operating capital. We reopened Space Camp after a four months closure but at greatly reduced number this summer. With limited admission from international students and school groups this fall and winter, we’re forced to close our weeklong camp programs again until April 2021. These ongoing challenges have meant a devastating loss of two-thirds of our revenue. 

At this time, we have exhausted all funding possibilities, and without your support the U.S Space & Rocket Center and Space Camp will have to close in October. However, we firmly believe that failure is not an option, so we are turning to you. We need the support of our fellow science enthusiasts, Space Camp alumni and anyone who believes in the spirit of exploration to help all systems return to go.

In its first 15 hours, the “Save Space Camp” campaign raised more than $290,000. By  Thursday morning, that amount was $ 513,497.

Prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center hosted more than 500,000 visitors per year and, in 2017 saw almost 800,000. From 2013 through 2019, it was the no. 1 paid-admission attraction in the state. Since 1982, Space Camp has graduated more than 900,000 students, many of whom now work in aerospace industries and a few of whom have actually gone to space. The joint facilities generated more than $100 million per year in revenue, and are considered major contributors to Huntsville’s economy.

For more information on the Save Space Camp campaign or to make an online contribution, visit https://charity.gofundme.com/o/en/campaign/savespacecamp.

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W.C. Mann

craig@cullmantribune.com