Did you know that Space Center Houston offers a family camp out at NASA? It’s a really incredibly opportunity to take the learning to new heights staying at NASA all night long! These fun and unique experiences are offered several times throughout the year. Some of the dates include holiday themes like Halloween and Christmas. Our family was able to go to the Galaxy Lights Family Overnight and it was one of the most memorable experiences of our lives! Please note: our visit to the camp out at NASA occurred in 2021, just after the global pandemic and there were mask requirements.

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Why Christmas time?

We are a homeschool family who loves studying space. I often include unit studies for our science curriculum, and this was our second time studying outer space. One of my favorite ways to wrap up some of these topic studies is by finding a hands on or immersive learning experience that relates to what we just studied. Sometimes it’s a museum trip, or heading to go dig for fossils or crystals. While looking to plan our trip to visit Space Center Houston, I stumbled on the family camp out at Nasa website. I didn’t believe it at first because it sounded like an absolute dream learning experience! The Halloween weekend camp out was already sold out, however December was available.

Space studies.

When we first decided to homeschool, space was what we studied first. It’s a topic that held my children’s interested and they were excited to learn about rockets and planets. It’s also something that I found endlessly fascinating! We spent a lot of time reading books, doing space crafts, and enjoying Nasa livestreams of launches and space walks. You can read a little more about our previous space studies here. I also have a resource list and book list for kids and parents here. We took a trip to Space Center Houston back in 2016 after our first round of space study. It was so much fun but my children were a bit too young to really absorb it all. That’s why I was so excited to go again with older kids.

What to expect on the first night.

For the family camp out at Nasa, the schedule has you arrive towards the regular hours closing time on the first night. You’re welcomed into the main exhibit hall, and you leave your camp out gear in your car. We had a little time to explore then we met in the theater area for a presentation and a welcome speech. After that we were dismissed for dinner. Did I mention that it was diner with an astronaut? It was so neat! We were able to hear about his missions to space and ask questions. I was also thrilled that they were able to make accommodations for gluten free and plant based meals. Everyone got enough to eat and we had a great time talking with some of the other groups attending the event. After dinner, it was time to head out and enjoy the Galaxy Lights!

The Galaxy Lights holiday lights.

Every winter, Space Center Houston does a winter lights display called Galaxy Lights. The installations are spread through all of the grounds outside. There is also a really neat “dancing” light installation on the ceiling in the main exhibition hall. It was mesmerizing! Throughout the night there were special, even an ice carving demonstration. Outside, all of the lights are beautiful! There is an area where you can walk under a rocket blasting off. You can walk through the Milk Way and see all the planets. A highlight for us was light up dance floor that reacts when you step on it. Every light display was amazing! There are also lots of great photo ops and selfie spots throughout the displays.

Special experiences.

One of the things we really loved about the camp out at Nasa was the special experiences during the Galaxy Lights night. Many of the exhibits in the main building were blocked off for camp out guests only. Behind the partitions were hands on learning activities, STEM activities, and crafts! My children loved making their own tree ornaments and we still hang them up every year at Christmas. The robotics activities were also a favorite of ours. It all made the night extra magical for us, with a little bit of learning mixed in too.

Time to set up camp.

When it was closing time for Galaxy Lights and Space Center Houston was closing for the night, all of the camp out participants gathered in a rear parking lot. There was one more surprise for us and it was a rocket launch! We were treated to two rocket launches, complete with a countdown shouted out by everyone there. It was really a fun way to end the night. After the launch, we went to our cars to get our sleeping gear. We were guided to our sleeping areas based on who we were with. I had been hoping to sleep in the main exhibits, but those were taken up by scouting groups. We were still at the museum, just in the education building. But, we got to fall asleep while looking at a Falcon 9 Booster, so I’d still call that a win!

Day 2 at Space Center Houston.

We awoke the next morning fairly early, in part because my children didn’t know how to sleep in. But, it gave us a really great opportunity to grab some photos by the space shuttle without any crowds. After getting dressed and ready for the day, we took all of our sleeping supplies back to our car and went for breakfast. There were great alternative options for breakfast as well. One of the things I really liked was that the camp out included a second day admission tickets too. So, after breakfast we got to go on a tram tour to see the Astronaut Training Facility and Rocket Park. My kids immediately recognized some of the modules in the training facility and that made me so proud! Walking around the complete Saturn V is an incredible experience as well. In my opinion, those tram tours are a must do!

family camp out at nasa space center houston coleyraeh

Wrapping up and heading out.

After the family camp out at Nasa, we hung around until just after lunch time on the second day. We stayed and enjoyed all of the exhibits inside as well as outside, taking in all that we could. It’s an amazing learning opportunity for families, whether your’e homeschooling or not. We also made sure to pick up some souvenir t-shirts only available to campers. My kids have almost outgrown them now, but they treasure that shirt because of the memories attached to it!

Packing for the experience.

I wasn’t exactly sure what we would need to bring for a camp out at Nasa. Luckily, they provide you with a great list of what to bring before the event. For most of the camp outs, you can reserve spots on the open area under the space shuttle outdoors. But, for the December event the area is taken up by the Galaxy Lights light display. So, we didn’t need to bring a tent but we did bring sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and all over our overnight essentials, including matching space themed pajamas. Yes, for all of us. Our pajamas were from Hanna Andersson and their family pj sets. I also packed clothes for the next day, and my kids each brought one stuffed animal each.

Packing list:

  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad or air mattress
  • Air pump if you need for air mattresses
  • Tent (if not in December)
  • Pajamas for everyone
  • Stuffed animals or lovie’s for children
  • Pillows (bring a comfy one)
  • Bathroom things (toothpaste, toothbrush, contact case, etc)
  • Small hand sanitizer
  • Backpack for daily exploring
  • Cash for souvenir t-shirt
  • Clothes for the next day
  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • Layers for warmth if going in December

Why camp out at Nasa.

This experience (almost three years later) is still one of our most treasured adventure schooling experiences. Our family had such a great time, from the moment we arrived and all the way through. At $79.95 per person, its worth every penny. You get nearly two days of admission to Space Center Houston, including a tram tour, dinner with an astronaut, breakfast, admission to the Galaxy Lights, a rocket launch, snacks, special STEM activities and keepsake crafts, plus your accommodations for the night. That means no hotel fees. In my opinion, you can’t go wrong with a family camp out at Nasa, any time of year!

Thanks so much for reading! I hope that this inspires you to take an out of this world adventure at Space Center Houston! I would love to hear about your experience if you go!

Nichole is a writer, content creator, and family travel and adventure influencer residing in southwest Arkansas. Though her and her husband (Ryan) are originally from the midwest, they’ve lived in Arkansas for ten years now and are thrilled to call it home. They have homeschooled their children from the beginning of their educational journey. They have a now 12 year old son and 9 year old daughter, along with a 9 month old, 100 pound Direwolf Dog puppy named Levi. Nichole is an avid outdoor adventurer and roadtripper and has been taking her kids on adventures by herself since they were infants, it’s all part of what she calls being responsibly brave. She is also on the Executive Team for Run Wild My Child and has contributed to Wild and Free. Be sure to follow her on Instagram and Facebook to stay up to date with all of their shenanigans.