“At least we are alive and that’s all that matters,” our flight instructor assured us as we tried to land our space shuttle. Our shuttle had long since missed the runway and bounced its way through plants and shrubs in the Florida countryside. We had given new meaning to the phrase, “Houston, we have a problem.” But, we’d experienced a great adventure; a simulation of the training astronauts received.
Have you ever wanted to spend a day in space? Dreamed of becoming an astronaut? Just wanted to explore the history of the US Space Program? You can experience all of this at The US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
A History of The Space Center:
Are you wondering how Huntsville, Alabama became a crucial center of the race toward space development? It begins with the story of Dr. Wernher von Braun, a German scientist who, starting in 1932, worked for the German army on the development of V-2 ballistic missiles. In 1945, after deciding the Germans would not win the war, he bicycled across enemy lines and arranged for a surrender of himself and his key team members of 500 rocket scientists. Known as the “paper clip society” because anyone with a paper clip on their folder was expedited to the US, these scientists searched for a place to settle and develop their program. They located to Huntsville in 1950 and transformed the city into what is today the second largest research park in the United States. As the Father of the US Space program, Dr. von Braun developed the technology which led to the first man on the moon. Today a section of the museum is dedicated to his story and an exhibit features a replica of his office with the original furniture donated by his family.
Planning Your Visit to the US Space and Rocket Center:
There’s so much to explore at the US Space and Rocket Center! Plan to spend at least one full day at the center to experience all of the activities. The center is divided into five different sections.
*The Rocket Center – This is the place to find permanent and traveling exhibits, hands-on activities for kids, and space simulators. Want to see real food the Astronauts eat in space or see how they sleep when there is no gravity? It’s all here! The kids can try their hand at the Mars Climbing Wall or learn how astronauts train in the Hyper Ship Motion-Based Simulator. Be sure to visit before the end of September 2017 to see the amazing Discover Earth exhibit. Developed by the US Space and Rocket Center, this exhibit will soon begin traveling around the world. Packed with fun activities for all ages, the Discover Earth exhibit allows visitors the chance to fuel their own rocket, explore the difference between the gravitational forces on each planet, and view photos taken from space of the planets. The IMAX theater is located in this section as well.
*Tip– If you are a teacher, you can send in a request for a photo of an area you would like to see from space, for example, the desert, and workers on the space shuttle will take the picture for you to use in your classroom.
*Davidson Center For Space Exploration- This building showcases the history of the US Space Program. Beginning with the inception of the program, the center features examples of the spacecraft used over the years. Free guided tours are available throughout the day explaining the advances made in both technology and safety. Fun fact: The first helmets used by the astronauts did not provide as much protection as the motorcycle helmets used today. You’ll be able to see moon rocks, the quarantine container used to hold some of the first astronauts until they could be tested to see if they had contagious “moon diseases,” one of only 3 Saturn V rockets in the world, and much more. The Saturn V rocket was never sent into space but was used for extensive testing to see if it could withstand the pressures of the atmosphere before more rockets were developed. Young children will enjoy Kidspace, a playground for the children with an “out of this world” theme. The National Geographic Theater, one of less than 20 in the US, is also located in this building.
* Shuttle Park- Can’t get enough of shuttles? The Outdoor Shuttle Park is located near the Space Camp Dorms. Here you’ll find the Shuttle Training Aircraft (STA), the only one on display anywhere in the world, along with the world’s only fully-stacked Space Transportation System, a Supersonic Jet and more. The great thing about these exhibits is you can get “up close and personal.” You can stand beside or under most of the displays!
*Rocket Park- Located between The Rocket Center and the Davidson Center for Space Exploration, the outdoor Rocket Park has 27 missiles and rockets on display. Here you will find helicopters and army vehicles and a Lunar Module that will leave you feeling as if you just stepped onto the moon. The older kids will have a “blast” with the Space Shot and the G-Force Accelerator, two rides designed to simulate space training. The younger kids- and their parents- will be glad for a stop in the Kids Cosmos Energy Depletion Zone.
*Space Camp–Looking for an adventure for children ages seven through eighteen? Want a family vacation that provides challenges and teamwork? Always wanted to try your hand at being an astronaut but never got the chance? The world renowned Space Camp has something for everyone. Adults and children from all over the world flock to Huntsville to attend one of these camps. For campers who arrive early, lunch with an Astronaut is available on Fridays for an additional fee.
Family Camp is available in three or four-day sessions and offers the entire family the opportunity to train for a space mission with simulation projects, model rocket building, astronomy night and more. Families live in a dorm style setting designed to resemble astronaut training facilities. Children must be seven or older to participate.
Week long Children’s Camps are available for ages nine to eighteen and cover topics ranging from robotics, MACH I, and space. Advanced Space Academy, available for ages 15-18, provides extensive in-depth hands-on training in different fields with a goal of an extended duration space mission. The students who graduate from this course receive 1 college credit. Teamwork skills and gradually moving children out of their comfort zone to provide new experiences, along with the traditional space orientation, are goals of the program.
Adult Space Academy is a day night program for anyone 18 or older who is interested in an interactive space mission. One of the facets I found fascinating about this camp is their attention to detail. The staff gleans knowledge of what NASA will be developing in the future and tailors their programs to relate to up to the minute space experimentation.
Things To Know Before You Go:
*The US Space and Rocket Center is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m, Central Standard Time. Admission is charged for adults and children ages five through twelve. Ages four and under are free.
* IMAX and National Geographic theater movies are not included in the cost of admission, although you can purchase an upgraded package which includes a movie.
*A two-hour bus tour is also available for an additional fee.
Have you visited The US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama? What was your favorite activity?