Exploring Huntsville's US Space & Rocket Center for an Unforgettable Journey to the Stars!
Updated: Jul 9
Do you know Huntsville Alabama is home to the United States foundation for Rocket science, technology and engineering? We’ll talk about that and more as we share with you the US Space and Rocket Center Museum in Huntsville Alabama. Let’s get Started!
Let’s first talk about the location and pricing. Then later we’ll share a tour through some of the best simulators in the building. If you want to watch the video version of this post, click below:
The US Space & Rocket Center is located in Huntsville Alabama about 20 minutes East of I-65. This is a great stop for Spring Breakers as it’s about 400 miles North of the Gulf of Mexico. The price for the museum is a little steep. People 13+ are currently $30 and children 5-12 years old are $20 and the time of this video. Annual memberships are available and children under 5 are free. There are discounts available. You can learn more at rocketcenter.com. One of your first questions might be why Huntsville and the answer begins with World War II.
Everything the United States knows about rocket science was developed and improved here in Huntsville at the Redstone Arsenal and now the Marshall Space Flight Center. Did you know Mission Control for the International Space Station is here in Huntsville? The story of how we made it from World War II to the Saturn V is legendary. Wernher Von Braun, a German Rocket Engineer was pulled out of Europe along with other engineers critical to the Hitler’s Rocket Program by the Americans. A bicycle is on display which was used by one of the engineers to meet with US Soldiers about the strategy. Along with the rocket engineers our soldiers took fully functional V-2 rockets back to America. One of the V-2 Rockets is in the museum next to Von Braun’s office exhibit. Huntsville Alabama is home to the Redstone Arsenal and modern day rocket Technology. Von Braun led the development of rocket science in the United States at the arsenal with a collaboration of the German immigrants and Americans.
Now that we know who designed the rockets, let’s discuss the early space program displayed in the museum and that big thing above us, and later we will discuss the future of the space program in another part of the museum.
In this area of the Davidson Center for Rocket Exploration there are models of the Mercury capsule. The Mercury program sent the first man into space and the capsule was big enough for one person. You’ll remember astronaut names like Sheppard, Grissom and Glenn. Close by is the Gemini capsule where two astronauts went to space. The main goal of the Gemini program was to understand longer missions and develop better re-entry and landing abilities. You can see with these models that the quarters were cramped and the pilots had very little room to maneuver. Also apparent in these capsules are the many switches and buttons and fuses. You quickly will get an understanding of the sophistication and level of education and memory required to work these machines.
As you travel through the Saturn V Hall let your brood explore. They will find hands-on experiences that you will overlook. The Apollo capsule is located next to the Airstream trailer the astronauts used to prevent sickness in space. Getting into the capsules provides a real feel for how the astronauts spent most of their time in space. The number of buttons and switches in the cockpits are overwhelming. The seats are hard and uncomfortable. Again you get a feel for the Apollo crew and how highly intelligent and disciplined they were to be able to navigate these vehicles. Dream about being as courageous as them someday. What else is there for kids to do except walk around and look at stuff. A lot.
Our brood enjoyed the moon-shot simulation. You can find this hands-on experience along the windows under the big circle. This exhibit discusses the guidance system of the Saturn V and shares how they designed and conquered how to drive and steer in space using some of the very first computer technology. The moon shot experience gives you the opportunity to drive the capsule with the lunar lander attached from the earth to the moon. There is room for error and only the best pilots can steer in the right direction to get it right. This is a similar experience as to what is portrayed in the movie Apollo 13. There are a few movies you will enjoy either before or after visiting the space and rocket center. First Man and Hidden Figures are two more. But the best video may be The Right Stuff. Watching these movies with our family after visiting the museum really increased our understanding of the rocket program and we enjoyed the movies more. As an Amazon Associate, we earn a commission from qualifying purchases.
Let’s talk about some of the items that have been to space and back and coming up will let you know where you can land the space shuttle.
In the hall, make sure to see and experience the artifacts that have returned from space and learn their stories. For example, the water tank from the Skylab fell to the earth in 1979. But it survived and was found in Australia with other debris after losing orbit. Therefore, you can see it here next to the Skylab model. Make sure you go up the ramp and view the mockup of Skylab. What you will take from here is the cold steel everywhere. There aren’t a lot of warm features in the space equipment although compared to the capsules this must have felt like heaven.
Next to the shuttle mockup is a narrative of the Manned Maneuvering Unit. These were only used in 1984 and allowed astronauts to move about in space untethered from the space shuttle. The unit on display was used in space and is part of a broader education on the STS-41-B mission here at the Rocket Center.
At the end of the hall, they really saved the best artifact. The Apollo 16 Command Module is on display at the end of the museum. From the front of the display you can see the open door to the interior. Your eyes will be drawn to the complex door and locking mechanism. Around the back it is amazing to see the bottom of the capsule and the burned and beaten remains of the heat shield. This capsule successfully protected John Young, Ken Mattingly and Charles Duke on their mission to the moon and back to Earth. While Mattingly kept watch during his orbits around the moon Young and Duke spent almost 3 days on the lunar surface. This time they enjoyed driving around the moon. During their “moontrip” ride they collected over 200 pounds of lunar samples in April of 1972. Behind the capsule is an actual moon rock for all to view.
These are the marquis items in the Davidson Center for Rocket Exploration. Let’s now go outside and explore the rocket park. Later we will share the future of the space program.
Outside walking around the rocket park explore the Saturn 1 Rocket and take a ride on the G Force Accelerator. To the west you can stand next to the Space Shuttle with boosters and fuel tank. Although the shuttle has been off exhibit in repair. To the East you can view military hardware developed with teams from Huntsville and take a ride on the Space Shot Simulator. Also, outside at the entrance you will discover the A-12 Oxcart supersonic spy aircraft. Similar in design to the SR-71 Blackbird but could fly faster and higher.
When talking about space it's good to have a dad joke that fits in. What do Planets like to read? Comet Books! Dad joke books make a great gift for dads and families. Here are dad joke books for great gifts: Dad Jokes Around the Campfire and 600 Funniest Dad Jokes
Let’s go back inside and share a little about the gift shop and tickets then what the museum has for the future of space.
Through the entrance is the gift shop where you will find the normal fare. We saw a variety of shirts, toys, models, and trinkets. But unique to NASA museums is the world famous neapolitan space ice cream. We saw a line to purchase tickets. But if you purchase on-line ahead of time you can walk right in. As you walk into the museum an exhibit is revealed through the doorway. My brood, looking at what was in front of them were glowing. You’ll have a similar experience. You can look forward to installations of Space X, the Atlas program, and Blue Origin all in front and towering above us. This exhibit is the next chapter in the space program. Here the story of the next mission to the moon and Mars is detailed with NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) as the tallest model in the room. Other pieces include Blue Origin, Spacesuits, and the lunar lander. In the middle of the room is the Boeing CST-100. This capsule was made to handle up to 7 crew and or cargo, come back to earth with a landing on land instead of water, and be reused up to 10 times. The CST-100 will even come with new blue spacesuits.
From Jeff Bezos you can see the first person to enter space on a Blue Origin spacecraft. Mannequin Skywalker went on the first “manned” mission of blue origin. The actual dummy has been to space and back and now is retired here at the US Space and Rocket Center. Mannequin is an instrumented dummy that was able to collect data during Blue Origin Flights in 2021. Its main purpose was to help engineers adjust, update, and improve the Blue Origin seats.
The Space Launch System is the most impressive in the room. The SLS is the strongest rocket ever and is able to send Orion, astronauts and cargo to the moon. This system is the creation of the engineers and people at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville Alabama. The launch system will be the premier rocket to space for at least the next 10 years.
There are paid experiences also available at the US Space and Rocket Center. These pictures are from the Shuttle Experience. Tickets should be purchased in advance as they are limited. The reason for tickets is due to how many people they can provide each experience to each day. If you have time, consider the shuttle experience like we did or enjoy the Apollo VR experience, AC Flight Simulator, Multi-Axis Trainer or scuba diving in the UAT Tank. To see what is available today check out this website https://shop.rocketcenter.com/Events.aspx . Let’s talk about the shuttle experience and backstage tour of the museum.
The shuttle experience is a coveted backstage tour of the space station, lunar lander, space port, shuttle simulator and mission control. During the shuttle experience we had two great guides. They were young, spirited and really enjoyed talking about space and Space Camp. If anyone could brighten your day and give you a desire to work for NASA these two could and did. The shuttle simulator is a piece of history I hope they never remove. This simulator allows you the opportunity to experience a shuttle launch and then attempt a landing with support from your guide. We strapped into the shuttle and put our headsets on for direction from mission control. There are flight manuals to understand the complexity of the computer system. We worked through a problem or anomaly during the simulation as well as the landing. The landing included activating the landing gear, setting up the glide path and guiding the shuttle safely to the runway.
If you need a place to stay while visiting the rocket center check out our post of the US Space and Rocket Center Campground . A great RV park right next door with about 35 full hookup sites.