This past week I attended a small business alliance meeting organized by NASA’s George C. Marshall Space Flight Centre in Huntsville, AL. It was a great event where small businesses get to meet George C. Marshall Space Flight Center’s personnel, government officials, large prime contractors such as The Boeing Company, Orbital ATK, Jacobs, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Dynetics, Teledyne Brown Engineering and other exhibitors, as well as fellow small business attendees. I also had the time to visit the US Space and Rocket Center® which is the official visitor center for NASA’s George C. Marshall Space Flight Center, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. The US Space and Rocket Center is operated by a commission appointed by the Governor of the State of Alabama, the Alabama Space Science Exhibit Commission and it is a non-profit organization.

NASA’s mission is to drive advances in science, technology and exploration to enhance knowledge, education, innovation, economic vitality and stewardship of the Earth. The ultimate aim of exploration is to have men and women walking on the red sands of Mars as depicted in the movie “The Martian” based on a novel by Andy Weir. The Martian is nominated for six Oscar’s including Best Picture, Matt Damon for Best Actor in his role as an astronaut, Mark Watney, Sound Editing, Production Design, Visual Effects and Adapted Screenplay. We eagerly await the outcome on 28 February, 2016.

International cooperation has been at the forefront at NASA for decades and today the collective efforts are seen on the International Space Station. As I walked the grounds of the US Space and Rocket Center, I noticed the significance of the vital contributions of the German rocket team, led by Wernher von Braun, who spearheaded the development of the Army’s Redstone rocket that launched America’s first satellite and first manned space flight. The continuing contributions of many of the German rocket team, coupled with contributions of thousands of Marshall employees and contractors, culminated in the development of the incomparable Saturn V which launched mankind and viz a viz, Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins from Apollo 11 fame, to the moon on July 16, 1969.

NASA was established by law on July 29, 1958. Two years later, NASA opened the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, and the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA) development team led by von Braun was transferred to NASA. Presiding from July 1960 to February 1970, von Braun became George C. Marshall Space Flight Center’s first director. Today, Todd May, who led the Space Launch System (SLS) Program, was recently appointed as the new center director. The Marshall team is leading the development of NASA’s SLS, the new heavy-lift launch vehicle that will send human explorers, their equipment, cargo and science payloads on new missions of discovery beyond low-Earth orbit and provide backup transportation to the International Space Station.

During the late 1960s, von Braun was instrumental in the development of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville and he also developed the idea of a Space Camp that would train children in fields of science and space technologies, as well as help their mental development much the same way sports camps aim at improving physical development.

Today the US Space and Rocket Center is home to the world-renowned Space Camp, Space Academy, Aviation Challenge Camp and Space Camp Robotics with Dr. Deborah Barnhart at the helm. Space Camp is the ultimate aerospace experience for kids aged between 9 and 11. Throughout the week, crew trainers guide trainees through simulated astronaut training using equipment adapted from NASA’s astronaut program. Briefings on the past, present and future of space exploration are conducted amid space artifacts to show students real-world applications of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Activities include training on astronaut simulators, build and launch rockets, experience movies in SpaceDome IMAX® or in the National Geographic Theater.

Technology comprises 40% of our USA GDP according to Secretary Pritzker at the US Department Commerce, and we need to get our kids involved and interested in STEM education. 66% of Space Camp graduates said their camp experience inspired their decision to enter a STEM field.