In The Shadow Of The Rockets

18 February 2009

Last weekend Mike and I paid a visit to the United State Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. We stayed at the Huntsville Marriott and had a spectacular view of the rockets at the Space and Rocket Center from our balcony. Our hotel room was so close that we were literally in the shadow of the rockets. While I have visited the center many times before, I have never been inside the new Davidson Center for Space Exploration. The 68,200-square-foot Davidson Center houses the visitor ticketing area, a 350-seat auditorium, rocket engines, a mock-up of the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle, the Mobile Quarantine Facility, the massive Saturn V rocket, artwork, and numerous other spaceflight exhibits.

For those who have never visited the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, it is well worth the time and effort to visit it. The U.S. Space and Rocket Center does an excellent job of showcasing America’s space and rocket heritage. The center’s Rocket Park features legendary rockets like the Atlas, Hercules, Juno II, Jupiter C, and Saturn I. In addition, the park also houses a prototype of the General Motors-built Lunar Mission Development Vehicle, a Skylab Training mock-up, and a full-size vertical replica of a Saturn V rocket. Inside, the museum is chockfull of artifacts and exhibits including Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo capsule trainers, a Russian Mir Space Station mock-up, rocket engines, and the Apollo 16 command module Casper.

Saturn V rocket at the Davidson Center for Space Exploration

Saturn V rocket at the Davidson Center for Space Exploration.

The highlight of our visit was the Davidson Center for Space Exploration. The center did a remarkable job of restoring both the Mobile Quarantine Facility and the Saturn V rocket. Entering the center and gazing up at the Saturn V’s mighty F-1 engines was breathtaking to say the least. The size of the Saturn V never ceases to amaze me. It is easy to see why historians often regard the Saturn V as America’s greatest peacetime engineering achievement. When we were not enjoying the sight of the Saturn V rocket, we enjoyed the Mobile Quarantine Facility (MQF) and the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) mock-up. The MQF was discovered in the woods of western Alabama in 2007 and brought to the center for restoration. This particular MQF was used by the Apollo 12 astronauts in 1969 after they returned from the Moon. The Orion CEV mock-up was a complete surprise. Before visiting the Davidson Center I had never seen an Orion CEV (mock-up or otherwise) in person. A side panel of the mock-up had been removed so visitors could look inside the prototype. I felt like a kid in a candy store window as I gawked at the interior of the Orion CEV mock-up. Seeing the Orion CEV made me want to be an astronaut more than ever.

Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle mock-up

Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle mock-up.

I have visited the U.S. Space and Rocket Center many times but I must admit this visit was by far the best. The newly refurbished Saturn V was truly a sight to behold. The men and women who devoted their time and resources to restoring the mighty  rocket are to be commended for their work. All of the exhibits, both new and old were a joy to experience. I cannot wait to visit again soon.