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Lean in to Learning in Huntsville

The unsettling feeling of weightlessness can grab the imagination of students used to the anchor of gravity. This simulated experience at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center allows young travelers to picture themselves floating through the vastness of space.

Huntsville, Alabama, invites students to dream big as they experience the realities of space, try their hands at painting and explore the human genome at the city’s attractions that welcome youth. After hands-on lessons in science at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, history at the EarlyWorks Family of Museums and art at the Lowe Mill, students might rethink their career options.

The convention and visitors bureau even offers Educational Escapes, a planning service for visiting students so group leaders can figure out which program best fits their desired curriculum. Students can try on the hat of an astronaut, an artist, a historian and a genetic researcher at these four attractions geared toward experiential education and fun.

U.S. Space and Rocket Center

Impressionable youth can gaze at both the Quick Plane that first flew in 1908 and the Saturn V rocket that traveled to the moon in 1969 at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.

“It still gives me chills when I think of what we were able to accomplish in a very short amount of time,” said Pam Williams, tourism sales manager for Huntsville/Madison County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We went from first flight to landing on the moon in 61 years. Even if you aren’t a space enthusiast, the space center is a historic and patriotic attraction.”

Students can explore the world’s largest space attraction’s extensive collection of artifacts, including rockets, engines and spacecraft, among them the imposing Saturn V, a National Historic Landmark. For a thrill, groups can ride the Space Shot to experience launchlike gravitational pressure and about three seconds of weightlessness.

Imax movies, interactive exhibits and space travel simulators also illustrate the incredible feats humans can accomplish with the help of math and science. For a more in-depth understanding of the marvels of space travel, student groups can choose from several programs, such as the famous Space Camp, Aviation Challenge and Space Camp Robotics. The weeklong Space Camp trains participants to live and work outside the Earth’s atmosphere by taking command of their own simulated space missions. Shorter programs of from one to two days allow groups to experience some of the camp’s highlights.

To see where the real action happens, group leaders can book a bus tour to the Marshall Space Flight Center, where NASA commands several projects, such as the International Space Station.

Lowe Mill Arts and Entertainment

Inside a maze of art studios, students can tap into their inner van Gogh with a class on painting from a working artist. The Lowe Mill Arts and Entertainment facility features 148 studios for 200 artists of various media, six fine-art galleries and performance venues.

Many of the artists offer classes in their mediums, so students can choose from lessons in painting, pottery, comic book illustration and other art forms. One of the studios, called Green Pea Press, leads traditional printing-press classes where participants can create posters, T-shirts and other handmade souvenirs.

The thriving creative community sits in a historic cotton mill where visitors can wander through studio after studio meeting artists who encourage questions on their creative process. The 171,000-square-foot complex is the largest privately owned arts facility in the United States.

“It’s a good place to go rather than a shopping mall,” said Williams. “It’s a great way to introduce students to art. It’s a very eclectic, fun place. They offer tours, or you can just browse and shop.”

The site offers not only visual arts, but also restaurants, chocolate, coffee, gourmet popsicles and free concerts.