For a trip to Louisiana, Google Maps recommended going through Alabama. Only ten miles out of our way was Huntsville, Alabama. It is home to the United States Space and Rocket Center, which is affiliated with the Marshal Space Flight Center. A lot of early work on rockets was here, under the direction of Werner Von Braun, who helped design a variety of early United State rockets. As a family of geeks, we felt we had to stop.
Arriving in Huntsville at just before midnight, we knew our hotel was cool, as we were offered a “rocket view.”
The centerpiece artifact is one of three actual Saturn Vs in existence. Outside the building, they have a mock-up set up vertically, as though ready for launch.
Inside, laying on its side (similar to the one in Houston), is the actual Saturn V.
It dwarfs one of Von Braun’s first rockets, the V-2, which was tucked next to its engines.
The powerful engines that made up the first stage was the F-1. I suspect that the engine alone was as big as the V-2 (my daughter for scale).
There were many Apollo artifacts on site as well, including the walkway to the “white room” at the top of the launch tower. This was the last walk the astronauts would take before boarding the capsule.
The Apollo 16 capsule was on display. This was the penultimate mission to the moon. It was commanded by my previous favorite astronaut, John Young.
The gloves for the astronauts were custom made based on casts of their hands. The casts for the Apollo 11 crew were in the Center. Aldrin had huge hands compared to his crewmates.
One artifact was Von Braun’s slide rule. In an era where I have the equivalent o a 1980’s supercomputer in my pocket, it is an amazing reminder of how simple the tools were that got us to the Moon.
After the Columbia disaster, NASA ran tests on the thermal protection on the leading edges of the wings. The test articles, shot with simulated foam, were on display, holes and all.
The US Space and Rocket Center is the only place where a “full stack” Space Shuttle is on display–orbiter, external tank, and solid rocket boosters all put together. The orbiter, Pathfinder, was a mock-up NASA built for testing procedures for mounting the shuttle made of wood and metal. It was purchased by a Japanese company for display, made to look more like the flight vehicle. It was later purchased and brought to Alabama.
A T-38 chase plane was under the orbiter.
A travelling exhibit on Leonardo Da Vinci was present. They had replicas of his notebooks.
Outside was an example of my second-favorite vehicle made of titanium, an A-12 Oxcart, a member of the Blackbird family.
It did look like it needed some care, but it was good to see.
We had a great time exploring the site, and looking at our nations rocket heritage.