All of the upright rockets at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville are replicas. The ones on their sides are the real things. This is because of a treaty made with the Russians who apparently find rockets pointed toward the sky in Alabama threatening.
Carol of Guest Services told Ruth and me that USSRC has not been hurt by recession, sequestration, and/or NASA cuts because the State of Alabama funds it. Carol has been in Huntsville long enough to remember when the Marshall Space Flight Center tested rockets. They would announce tests in advance because they made a BIG noise and the ground would shake like an earthquake. She especially recalled Saturn V rocket days.
I liked the vertical Saturn 1B and the horizontal Space Shuttle, but the venerable Saturn V rocket won my “most-impressive” award. On its side in four stages in its very own hall, Saturn V would be 36 stories tall if erect. One of only 3 in the world on display, Saturn V made the U.S. Moon landing possible. Along the walls around it are displays that include a moon rock, the mobile quarantine facility that Apollo 12 astronauts were confined to for 3 weeks after they returned from the Moon, and a display that Carol said was both her favorite and the one most visitors miss. Thanks to her I much admired the easily overlooked commemorative plaques about the Apollo program that included every astronaut, even those on missions that weren’t successful.
Everywhere we went, Ruth & I were surrounded by totally involved kids of both sexes. Here they can design and build robots, experience an Apache simulator, etc. Space Camp offers a number of programs that might turn a visit into a day-long summer activity, a 4-day family trip, etc. For example, those ages 12-18 who sign up for Advanced Space Academy check in Sunday between noon and 2:30 pm and graduate the following Friday. Being at USSRC gave me hope for the future because I saw so many young people experiencing the thrill of math & science based pursuits.
Since it took Ruth & me several hours just to explore USSRC’s main facility, we decided to skip the $12, daily at 1 pm hour+ bus tour of Marshall Space Flight Center with 2 scheduled stops–Redstone Arsenal, a functioning Army facility where passengers see a stand used for testing the Saturn V rocket, and the Payloads Operations Center.
USSRC is a Smithsonian Affiliate and an official visitor center for both NASA and The Marshall Space Flight Center. It’s open 7 days a week year-round except for 4 predictable holidays. Visitors are given a daily schedule. Our Monday, April 29th sheet entitled Ruth & me to a behind the scenes tour, a jolt on SpaceShot, use of the climbing wall, etc. Every visitor gets to see one IMAX or 3D film except for feature-length Hollywood movies. We chose Hubble, the currently most popular.
Carol has actually noticed an increase in visitors. I can understand why. U.S. Space & Rocket Center was named one of Budget Travel‘s 2012 top 15 places that every child should visit before turning 15. Trust me on this–even adults find it a 5 Compass experience.