HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- The U.S. Space and Rocket Center is home to a treasure trove of space flight history, including a garden of rocket hardware designed to educate and preserve America's first steps off our fragile oasis.
The north Alabama space center is also home to Space Camp and Aviation Challenge, two programs designed to train and teach both children and adults on what it is like to fly aboard a space shuttle or an F-16 fighter jet.
The programs also teach the importance of teamwork both at school or on the job.
"I love that I was able to experience Space Camp since it was something that I wanted to do every summer growing up," Colleen Cino from Orlando exclaimed adding she looks forward to returning with her daughter in a year.
This weekend, Space Camp is the subject of a made-for-television movie which just may raise your spirits and inspire all children ages 7 to 77 to reach for the brass ring of learning.
"A Smile as Big as the Moon" is the newest movie from Hallmark Hall of Fame productions and centers on a classroom of special needs children who come together with the help of their teacher Mike Kersjes to triumph through education at Space Camp.
Based on Kersjes' 2002 book by the same name, Smile teaches it's audience how truly talented children in special education are and their ability to overcome diversity and unkind comments to get a job done.
Kersjes and his teaching aide Robynn work to gather both the support of their school and raise the money needed to attend to Space Camp.
However, one barrier could stand in the way for Mike, Robynn and their class, even larger than raising the tuition money. Space Camp has never hosted a special needs group.
This feel good movie demonstrates the strong role educational camps have with young students.
Last week, this aerospace reporter attended the Hollywood styled-VIP premiere at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and had the chance to hear the cast and crew discuss their feeling's behind the fact-based movie.
Scott Goudy is one student portrayed who tries hard and defies his own self being to become a true leader for the class, "I love being here (at Space Camp) and I just hope and pray we can have more challenged people come here."
Both Scott and the actor who portrays him, Logan Huffman, met for the first time that night. At one point Scott leaned by to to tell Logan, "You did a great job".
As Mike's class trains to meet the challenges at camp, they all learn how hard work and determination can allow you to succeed in you goals.
Scotland born actress Louise Linton, who plays Space Camp trainer Julie, discussed her admiration for the cast and crew, "It was a warm, happy, really beautiful set to be on and I think a lot of that came from the kids."
Linton's smile grew as she spoke of her working relationship with the young cast.
"I didn't know what to expect working with a bunch of special needs children," Linton added. "They were the most impressive actors I've ever worked with, so it was really delightful."
Kersjes echoed Linton's thoughts saying, "Two-hundred and some members of a family made this happen... and I am very proud how this family came together and made it work."
At the conclusion of the movie, audience members I spoke with applauded the movie's values and Space Camp's many accomplishments.
"As a teacher my favorite part of Space Camp was getting exposure to all of the activities that they have available for all of my students," states educator Patricia Cleveland from Jeffersonville, Georgia. "From the special needs students to my gifted and accelerated students."
Programs within Space Camp are designed to elevate the learning curve for students, and include an educator's camp for teachers which will add to their continuing education accreditation.
John Ratnaswamy, a parent and veteran of several Space Camp session, summed up the rich values embedded within the program, "Space Camp helps kids, all kinds of kids, learn that they can be part of building a future that unleashes the human spirit and honors the explorer that is born all of us."
On Twitter, "A Smile as Big as the Moon" was a trending hit on the social media giant as the audience spoke of the movie via the #SmileMovie hash tag. Expect more Smile tweets this weekend.
Hallmark Channel will air "A Smile as Big as the Moon" several times this week beginning tonight (Feb. 4) at 8:00 p.m. EST and again at 10:00 p.m.
A Sunday afternoon airing is planned at 2:00 p.m.