In an effort to better understand the mysteries of the cosmos, and taking-off into its second year, Space Camp — an initiative of the Aga Khan Education Board (UK) — took 32 young participants from across the UK on an unforgettable space mission. 

Building on the success of the inaugural Space Camp in 2018, this year’s adventure was quite literally out of this world. Divided into two overnight residential parts, the programme started in February with a sleepover at the world-renowned Science Museum in London. Participants lived their very own ‘Night at the Museum,’ getting stuck into interactive activities about space, opening up their thinking and curiosity about space, following in the Islamic tradition of scientific inquiry. 

The second part, held in May was based in Leicester, where space cadets — boys and girls aged 9–11 years — had a chance to dive deeper into the future of space travel and exploration. Aspiring astronauts visited the National Space Centre, participating in space missions including a rendezvous with a comet, and had an opportunity to experience being based at Mission Control on Earth, as well as being inside a rocket in Space. The magic and excitement of space truly came alive as Space Camp enjoyed a show under the stars at the UK’s largest planetarium, immersing themselves into all the wonders that Space has to offer.  

Lights off, projector on, and constellations up, participants learnt all about the unique properties of each planet in the solar system and came away with the skill to identify the North Star at night. A Virtual Reality experience took participants to new galaxies as they got to experience walking and floating in space with the use of technology.  

The space camp, designed by Ismaili teachers and scientists, brought together new knowledge about space exploration while also helping the students to extend a growth mindset in their team work, critical thinking, and communication skills. The students were fortunate to have Astrophysicists Dr Farzana Meru and Dr Hassan Chagani sharing their knowledge and helping students think about potential futures in space.

Space Camp is part of the Aga Khan Education Board (AKEB)’s wider effort to promote interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). In our ever-changing globalised world, the use of technology is not only on the rise, but is essential to being involved in the knowledge society. The AKEB STEM agenda also enables Ismaili youth to experience, discover and be inspired, to adapt to shifting trends in the world, and put them ahead in years to come.

Throughout the Space Camp the interaction between faith and science was integral to the experience. The team of facilitators, ranging from science professionals, teachers, and graduate students, led various workshops on modern day inventions, the symbolism of light, and traditions of astronomy and more general scientific inquiry in Islamic history.  

The facilitators and team demonstrated the impact of role models on younger members of the Jamat, with their dedication and enthusiasm for learning about space rubbing off on participants. Alishba Bandealy, aged 8, described how she found “space camp fascinating, loved all of the hands-on experiments, and most enjoyed making glass planets.”  

Over the last two years the Camp has gone from strength to strength, working with partners such as Virgin Galactic, Leicester Space Centre, the Science Museum, and the Royal Observatory. Space Camp 2019 was presented with a CREST award, a nationally recognised honour, accredited by the British Science Association for students participating in a series of specific STEM related activities.  

Chair of AKEB (UK), Dr Shaheena Janjuha-Jivraj emphasised the importance of Space Camp, saying “these programmes provide a platform for children to become more immersed in understanding the immense opportunities that science, technology, and robotics brings to their world. Rather than remaining passive observers, through education they can take control and become part of the future to influence how technology is developed.”

Space Camp is one of a number of AKEB initiatives to develop children’s STEM capabilities. Other activities include “Tech Jams” – a two-day hackathon, a Science Fair where children can enter their very own invention, and coding clubs. In today’s world, our discovery and understanding of science is evolving at a rapid rate. Activities such as Space Camp open children’s minds to STEM, and ultimately enable children to stay at the forefront of science and technology.