The city of Huntsville, Alabama is located in the northern Alabama hills. For many years it was a cotton producing town like many others nearby. All that changed in the 1940s when the military started using a nearby arsenal for rocket development.
After the war many German engineers were relocated here and together with American engineers began developing rockets. The most famous of these engineers was Werner von Braun. This effort has lead to Huntsville’s nickname – The Rocket City.
Fortunately not all of the efforts in rocket development was for the military. This technology has allowed man to explore space.
As you approach the museum you can’t help but notice the massive Saturn V rocket.
Inside the museum there is a plethora of space related artifacts including Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s space suit.
The museum showcases the development of the equipment used in space flight including these early prototypes for gloves and boots.
One of the few items you can touch, a replica of the Apollo Lunar Rover is on display for inspection. The seats felt like cheap lawn chairs but served their purpose for the astronauts in their bulky space suits.
Apollo 13’s challenges have been made famous by Hollywood, but Huntsville has a couple of the components from the real space craft.
The museum has a couple of the early EVA (Extravehicular Activity) units.
Another large display has mock ups of the International Space Station.
When the space shuttle program was decommissioned there was a fierce competition amongst museums for the remaining shuttles. Huntsville did not get one of the four that actually flew in space, but they did get Pathfinder’.
This full scale simulator was built here in Huntsville and was used in the development of the facilities required for shuttle launches.
While the shuttle itself is a mock up, the fuel tanks and boosters are very much real.
A closer view of the Saturn V shows it’s massive size, with a height of 363′.
This mock up of the lunar lander on the moon’s surface is located outside near a couple of amusement rides. The rides are there to entertain the thousands of tweens and teens who come every year for Space Camp.
The outdoor exhibits are showing the wear of being in northern Alabama weather for the last 30-40 years.
The second major building on the campus is the Davidson Center for Space Exploration. It was designed to house a horizontal Saturn V rocket, as well as numerous other larger items, including other engines.
Skylab was the first space station used, having been launched in the 1970s. After just 6 years it was discontinued and eventually fell back to earth. While most of it was destroyed during re-entry, this large piece was recovered in the desert in Western Australia.
The Davidson Center has more examples of space suits.
Their prized possession is the Apollo 16 command module. This view shows the damage from re-entry that the space capsules incur.
The NASA program has had 3 major accidents with loss of life. The first of these was during the development of Apollo 1. A cabin fire during launch rehearsal killed the three astronauts, Gus Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee.
A memorial and tribute is on display in the Davidson Center to the three.
Outside the Davidson Center are large concrete pieces that commemorate each of the Apollo flights.
In addition the wall that surrounds the courtyard have plaques describing each of the flights.
The U.S. Space and Rocket Center has a great collection of space related items. While it is very busy with ‘Space Campers’, it is a must see for any space travel or history fan.