Western Traveler

US Space & Rocket Center – Huntsville, Alabama

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in astronomy and space exploration.  I’m actually older than the space program and was around even before the launch of Sputnik in 1957.  The first thing I ever bought on layaway was a telescope from Burba’s Hardware in Hodgenville, Kentucky.  It was a 40x refractor and the first time I aimed it at the moon and could actually see craters, I was hooked.  Like everyone else alive with a TV, I watched Neil Armstrong’s historic walk on the moon in 1969.

The first class I signed up for in college was Astronomy of the Solar System under Dr. Karen Hackney at Western Kentucky University.  I took some follow-up classes and found very early on that my math skills weren’t good enough to consider a major in Physics or Astronomy.  Even so, I availed myself of every opportunity to spend time at WKU’s observatory and planetarium and attended hundreds of “labs” throughout my college years.

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It was 1976 when I first visited the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.  That’s the good news, the bad news is that they were closed.  I was headed to New Orleans for Spring Break and couldn’t layover until they opened up.  It wasn’t until October of 2013 when I had a chance to return.  My family was on our way to the Gulf coast for some R & R during the government shutdown, or as I call it Government Gone Wild, enough of that.

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At the Center there are several different areas, highlighting everything from rocket development to displays of many space-related vehicles and military hardware.

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I spent hours exploring, finding historic treasures around every corner.  For me at least the highlight was the area known as Shuttle Park, where I was able to literally walk under an actual fuel tank and life-sized model of a space shuttle.  You can’t even begin to imagine how huge this thing is until you’re underneath it.

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Another area that I really enjoyed was the simulated lunar landing site of Apollo 11.  You can step down into the pretend moon surface and sit next to the LEM (Lunar Excursion Module) replica.

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One thing that was particularly interesting for me was the revelation of how really complex these rockets are.  At one time or another most of us have said “it isn’t rocket science”.  Lucky for me “it” isn’t.  I can’t even imagine the brain power involved in the development of these systems.  One good look at any of the technology and you’ll be convinced too.  I consider myself reasonably intelligent, but I couldn’t figure out what any of the stuff was inside the rocket testing chamber.

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At the Space Center you could see such amazing things as replicas of Sky Lab, a Saturn V rocket, numerous military rockets, several space capsules, a life-sized replica of the Curiosity vehicle sent to Mars and tons of interesting subject-related exhibits.

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While there, make sure to take time out to enjoy their IMAX theater, grab a meal at the Mars Grill and make sure to check out their over 1,500 space exploration artifacts.  On the way out you can grab any number of souvenirs at their very nice gift shop.

Space Center #1

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One great thing about this place is how they cater to children, including special tours for groups, their world famous Space Camp, special programs such as; their Scuba Experience (simulating low-gravity environments), the Area 51 Ropes Course, daily tours and Day Camps.  One could easily spend a lot of time here and never repeat any activity.

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If you get the chance, definitely carve out some time for this place.  You can get detailed information at their website or call them for information at 1-800-637-7223.  It’s easy to get to, right off of I-565 in Huntsville.

Last modified on: November 26th 2013.
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