Huntsville, AL

Road Trip: Exploring the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville

Heather Raulerson

If you weren’t crazy about space before, you will be after visiting the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. The U.S. Space & Rocket Center is the Official Visitor Center for the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. This complex has everything you could possibly want that deals with space, from the first airplane built in Alabama to the Saturn V rocket that put a man on the moon. The largest collection of rockets and space memorabilia anywhere is right here. Plus, there is a detailed history of the space program with amazing exhibits, and don’t forget that this is the home of Space Camp.

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The rocket and the moonHeather Raulerson

Saturn V Rocket

If you are driving here, you won’t be able to miss it next to the highway. The 363-foot tall replica of the Saturn V rocket is next to the main museum building. The audio that plays makes you feel like you are at the launch of this rocket going to the moon. Don’t worry the engine firing noise isn’t real but, the special effects are nice. Plus, it looks great lit up at night.

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Saturn V RocketHeather Raulerson

Once you enter Davidson Center, you bypass the gift shop to head upstairs to the Saturn V Hall. You walk by a great quote by Wernher von Braun that says, “The rocket will free man from his remaining chains, the chains of gravity which still tie him to this planet. It will open to him the gates of heaven.” He was the individual that brought this fabulous place to fruition for the public. 

The main room has neatly laid out the history of the race to the moon and its triumphs and misfortunes. But, the highlight is that you are walking under only one of three in the world, the Saturn V Rocket. This authentic rocket is a National Historic Landmark along with a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark. Displayed only 10 feet off the ground, so as you walk underneath the rocket, you marvel at the enormity of this beast. How did this thing ever get off the ground, let alone take us to the moon? 

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Saturn V RocketHeather Raulerson

Davidson Center for Space Exploration

The Apollo 16 Capsule with the recovery parachute attached is my favorite display while exploring the Davidson Center. The Apollo 16 Lunar Module, a.k.a. Casper is launched into space by a Saturn V. This tiny capsule held three astronauts: John Young, Thomas “Ken” Mattingly, and Charles Duke. They made it home safely with an extra 208 pounds of Moon rock. But, looking at the bottom of Casper, you can imagine how frightening it must have been entering back into the atmosphere. 

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Apollo 16 Lunar ModuleHeather Raulerson
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Bottom of the CapsuleHeather Raulerson

While you are there you could go on the multi-axis trainer in the Davidson Center. You can’t come here and visit what feels like the Space Capital of the World and not partake in the fun. Only a slight headache after getting off the ride so, all in all, good times! Quite proud of myself for trying this.

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Heather on the Multi-Axis TrainerHeather Raulerson

Rocket Park

There are rockets galore everywhere once you step outside of Davidson Center. 27 Rockets and missiles showcase the US Army’s engineering marvels and how they set the stage for the space program and NASA’s Marshall Space & Flight Center. Some of the rockets in the park are Saturn I, Jupiter IRBM, Juno II, Mercury-Redstone, Redstone, and Jupiter-C. Alongside the rockets are fun rides that you can get to experience liftoff and weightlessness.

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RocketsHeather Raulerson
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More RocketsHeather Raulerson

Space Camp

Having never been to Space Camp before, I was super excited about this tour. Mission Center Complex is where the majority of the Space Camp activities and training happen. I love the quote at the entrance, “Through these doors enter the world’s future astronauts, scientists, and engineers.” Kids were finishing up their assignments when we started the tour but, eventually, it cleared out.

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Entrance to Space CampHeather Raulerson
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Inside Space CampHeather Raulerson

The activities and machines are all geared to train them for space.  Interactive Simulators are available to try if you aren’t susceptible to motion sickness. They also have a climbing wall if you are so inclined to try. One exhibit I like is Great Observatories. This has computer displays of all the planets in our Solar System. And you will be happy to know Pluto is included!

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Pluto Planet StationHeather Raulerson

International Space Station: Science on Orbit

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Walking through the International Space Station SimulatorHeather Raulerson

You get to experience what it is like for astronauts to live and work on the International Space Station. The first stop is the Payload Operations Center where scientists and engineers manage the experiments the astronauts are conducting on the station. Next is the replica of the ISS. There is an exhibit of what astronauts eat and you can see where they sleep. Also, you can see one of the workstations. Look at all the cables to make sure nothing floats away.

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Cables in the Space StationHeather Raulerson

And here is what everybody is dying to know what it is like but, afraid to ask…where do they go to the bathroom?

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Bathroom in the International Space StationHeather Raulerson

Space Camp attendees actually perform real tasks that astronauts would have to perform inside and outside the space station. The kids and adults (Yes there are adults at Space Camp) will gear up in space suits and perform a simulated mission.

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Heather posing with a space stationHeather Raulerson

What an awesome museum this is to visit! Does all of this make you want to visit Huntsville, Alabama, and stop at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center? I hope so! If you are planning on visiting or have already been, I would love to hear about your visit!

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Freelance travel writer and photographer who loves sharing her adventures from around the world. It is never too late to pursue your dream!

Rochester Hills, MI
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