Make us your home page

30 years ago, 'SpaceCamp' suffered a movie malfunction

SpaceCamp could have been one of the big movies of 1986. Released June 6, 1986, the film had a solid cast (Kate Capshaw, Lea Thompson, Kelly Preston, Joaquin Phoenix, Tate Donovan, Tom Skerritt). It was inspired by the real-life Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama - a facility that few of us probably even knew about back in the mid-‘80s. And it a had a family-friendly story: A group of teenagers go to camp at Kennedy Space Center in Cap Canaveral, Fla., for the summer to lean about NASA and the shuttle program.

And then Jan. 28, 1986, happened. When the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, so did the marketing plan for SpaceCamp. The film was moved to a summer release date and everyone rightfully felt that a movie about a near-disaster with the shuttle was just “too soon.”

“Our thoughts about the space shuttle will never be the same again, and our memories are so painful that SpaceCamp is doomed even before it begins,” the late Roger Ebert wrote in his review for the Chicago Sun-Times. “The time is not right for a comedy thriller about a bunch of kids who are accidentally shot into orbit with their female teacher. It may never be right again.” 

But it wasn’t just the timing that was off. SpaceCamp probably should have spent more time on the launch pad, tweaking the story line that seems ludicrous to us three decades later. A 12-year-old gets his dream to go into space because his BFF, a robot named Jinx, sabotages a engine test of the shuttle (on which the teens are, of course, invited to participate in) and suddenly we’re all humming Wild Blue Yonder and quoting “Max and Jinx... Friends... For-e-ver!”

But don’t worry. All will be well because these kids did get astronaut training - and learned Morse Code - before countdown.

And yet, chances are if this movie were on HBO tonight, I’d sit down and watch it - with a bare minimum amount of eye-rolling. 

Here are five things you probably didn’t know about the movie SpaceCamp on its 30th anniversary.

1. Though set in Florida, the movie was partially filmed at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama - the first Space Camp program. Other Space Camps are located in Canada and Turkey. (Previous locations that are now closed included Florida and California.)

2. This would be Joaquin Phoenix's feature film debut, though he was credited as Leaf Phoenix.

3. In an earlier draft of the script, a Russian shuttle (manned by Russian kids) is sent up to rescue the teens. 

4. Chelsea Clinton attended Space Camp in the 90s. So did the Olsen twins. The first astronaut that was a Space Camp alumni was Dorothy Metcalf Lindenberger. She served as a mission specialist on an April 2010 shuttle mission to the International Space Station.

5. The footage of the shuttle landing at the end of the movie is from Challenger’s landing at the end of STS-8, which was the shuttle program’s first nighttime landing.

Sources: and Space Camp Turkey

[Last modified: Monday, June 6, 2016 2:46pm]


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours