Washington, D.C. & Houston

Aerospace & the Race to Mars
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Smithsonian Student Travel |  Student Journey  |  Washington, D.C. & Houston

Delve into the world of aerospace engineering and space exploration on this high school summer program as you travel from Washington, D.C., to Houston, Texas, home to NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Take an overnight trip to Shenandoah National Park, construct and launch your own rockets, and study the night sky away from city lights. In Houston, talk to aeronautic specialists, NASA experts, astronomers, and engineers to learn about the experiments being conducted on the International Space Station. Learn about potential future missions to Mars and debate the ethics of deep space exploration and the colonization of other planets. Immerse yourself in the cutting-edge technologies being used and developed today as you consider the implications of space travel and the challenges and benefits of exploring even further.

June 25, 2022–July 8, 2022 (14 days)
July 22, 2022–August 4, 2022 (14 days)
Students completing grades: 8–12
Tuition: $6,790 + airfare
Typical Group: 20–24 students + 3 leaders


  • Learn about aerodynamics, then build and launch your own rocket

  • Debate the merits and challenges of privatized space exploration

  • Visit the Johnson Space Center, home of the ISS’s Mission Control

  • Meet NASA scientists who are at the forefront of space exploration


This itinerary represents our best projection of the group’s schedule. However, we may implement changes designed to improve the quality of the program.

Arrival • Travel Day • Meet your student travel group and your trip leaders in Washington, D.C., as the official start to your program.

Washington, D.C. • 6 days • Begin your journey in Washington, D.C.  Meet with industry pioneers, interview local experts, discuss pertinent topics regarding women in the profession, and deepen your understanding about what motivates humans to venture into outer space. Learn about the history of flight and the evolution from airplanes to spacecraft at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, and see groundbreaking aircraft up close including the Enola Gay, the SR-71 Blackbird, and the space shuttle Discovery. Engage with the past, present, and future of the politics surrounding space exploration in discussions with legislators and historians. Visit monuments in Washington, D.C., and explore the diverse foods and flavors of the city’s restaurant scene.

Shenandoah National Park • 2 days • Take a crash course on the basics of aerodynamics, build your own model rockets, and launch them from the valley floor on a road trip to Shenandoah National Park. Hike and explore Shenandoah’s unique ecology with a local guide, stargaze away from the city lights, and embark on a guided astronomical journey through the lens of a telescope with a NASA Solar System Ambassador.

Houston • 5 days • Fly to Houston and meet with scientists on the cutting edge of space exploration at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Have lunch with an engineer and hear about experiences in zero-gravity orbit and reflections gained from orbiting the Earth. Next, go behind the scenes to visit NASA’s high-tech training facilities. Learn how Mission Control communicates with the International Space Station, speak with local experts and brainstorm what it would really take to colonize Mars, and taste-test food that astronauts take on missions. Take a lesson on the physics of flight and aircraft design and maintenance, then try your hand at drawing up a flight plan. See if you have what it takes to pilot an aircraft during a flight simulation at the Lone Star Flight Museum, then try a thrilling ride of a different kind as you test the limits of modern engineering and experience near-zero-gravity at the Kemah Boardwalk. Enjoy freshly caught Gulf seafood and cool off at a local swimming hole.

As the program concludes, wrap up your independent project to share with your group and celebrate your time together.

Return • Travel Day • Fly from Houston to your final destination. 

Smithsonian Student Travel Expert – Coming Soon!

The expert joining this journey is a professional in their field and will be with the group for three to four days of the itinerary. They will tie in their knowledge and experiences with the themes of the program and will share their insights and passion for the region during talks and informal conversations throughout their time with the students.  

What to Expect

Physical Activity This is a physically active summer travel program. You can expect to do plenty of walking around cities and museums, and may also kayak and swim. You do not need to be at peak fitness to participate, but it is important that you have a desire to be physically active, and that you are excited about trying all activities. 

Accommodations Accommodations at each of our stops are comfortable hotels or hostels. Leaders reside with students throughout the program.

Climate • Summers in Washington, D.C., are warm and humid with highs in the mid-80s °F and lows in the 50s. Houston is similarly warm and humid, with highs in the 80s and 90s, and lows in the 60s.

Meals We enjoy meals at local restaurants and cafes, and sometimes take picnic lunches to local parks.

Sign up for two programs & save $500!

$300 tuition discount + no application fee