U.S. Space and Rocket Center
Updated: May 7, 2022
Why the U.S. Space and Rocket Center is great for kids
A great 2-3 hour or more experience
Lots of hands on and visual displays
What kid doesn't want to be an astronaut?
Artifacts that have been to space and returned successfully
Education at an immersive level
A lot has changed since I visited the U.S. Space and Rocket center located in Huntsville Alabama almost 35 years ago. At that time, the shuttle program was the main focus in my mind and the layout was totally different. Today, the main focus is the Saturn V rocket, the Apollo missions to the moon, and the space stations. According to their site, https://www.rocketcenter.com/museum Dr. Wernher von Braun is the leader that developed the space program in Huntsville and had the vision to create the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. In Huntsville his team developed the rockets for NASA that put the first satellites and people into space. More recently propulsion for the shuttle program was developed and modules for the ISS were designed and built. Below is a map of the rocket center for your review. We went in 2021 and got the commemorative COVID release!
From our perspective there are three main sections to the center. There is the outdoor section including the Pathfinder shuttle and gulfstream trainer, military exhibits, and rockets; the hands on building with cafeteria, simulators, training pool, and ISS walkthrough, and the Saturn V Hall. When we purchased our tickets all of the additional pay to play items were already sold out so our favorite part was the Saturn V Hall. If you are planning on going to the Space and Rocket center and want to take advantage of the simulators, training pool or other limited items purchase your tickets well in advance.
Let's be blunt. The Saturn V Rocket is the rocket that took Americans to the moon. There were 6 missions that successfully made it to the moon between 1968 and 1972. The Saturn V is on display horizontally above the hall in three sections. The rocket is over 350 feet long and 33 feet in diameter. The display of three sections is important because the rocket left the platform intact and the first stage fired for about three minutes, then the second stage would separate from the first and fire for six minutes, then the third stage would burn twice first for about 2.5 minutes then for another 5..5 minutes. These are more specifically described in the Hall with many displays of engines and story boards. There is also a full model under the actual rocket to provide more detailed information. What is so significant is the size of the space capsule at the end of the rocket compared to the mass of rocket needed to send Americans to the moon. As small as it is the whole wieght of the capsule, other equipment (lunar module, lunar roving vehicle, etc.), and rocket required to get to the moon weighed around 100,000 lbs.
On display at the end of the hall is the returned capsule from Apollo 16 and a moon rock from the Apollo 12 mission. These two artifacts are most impressive as you can stand inches away from items that have come back from the moon intact. The astronauts of Apollo 16 included John Young, Charles Duke, and Ken Mattingly. To see the full size of the capsule and know they went to the moon and returned in this capsule is impressive. This was their home for over five days. Don't miss looking up to see the parachute. The moon rock on display (and basically all moon rocks) is made of basalt or volcanic rock.
Other capsules are on display throughout the Saturn V Hall as well as a skylab mockup, the mobile quarantine Airstream, recovered oxygen tank, and other displays and artifacts.
Across the courtyard from Davidson Hall is another building which houses many of the experiences, cafeteria and space camp activities. Again, if you are planning your trip make sure to buy these experiences ahead of time. Even if you don't have tickets you need to walk through this building as much as you can. We enjoyed watching the multi-axis trainer and jet flight simulators for a few minutes. There are windows to view the underwater tank experience. The cafeteria is open. Finally, there is a model of the International Space Station that you can walk through. We enjoyed seeing the treadmill, sleeping quarters, and science lab mockups as we walked through the exhibit. A theater and Planetarium is also included in this building. We would have enjoyed the Shuttle simulators. Unfortunately those tickets are very limited. My kids were able to participate in the Apollo 11 VR experience. My 10 year old enjoyed it and shared some of what he experienced as we watched the Apollo 13 movie with Tom Hanks.
Outside on the ground of the Space Center are many artifacts worth noting. As you drive in to the parking lot you can see the A-12 Oxcart that could fly from New York to London in a hour. Outside the cafeteria and simulators there is a Saturn 1 rocket. The Saturn I is conveniently located so that you can compare it to the Saturn V. Both rockets are setup to walk under and around. In the Space Shuttle Park, are three notable aircraft. As of 2021 the Pathfinder Shuttle is unavailable for a restoration effort. However, the booster rockets and fuel tank are still on display. Adjacent is the gulfstream jet that was modified to help astronauts train to land the shuttle. Half the cockpit was converted to the look and feel of the Shuttle controls. The T-38 Talon on display is also an astronaut flight trainer and is also used as chase planes for the shuttle program. Astronauts also used these jets to commute to Kennedy Space Center for their missions.
Also located outside is a military exhibit. The most interesting for us was the Chinook Helicopter with the rear door open for viewing. Nearby is a life size model of skylab as well as other military weapons and rocket systems.
While we were in the Rocket Center I wanted my brood to watch Apollo 13 and Space Camp when we got home. These movies were a hit for our brood and we hope you like them too. Here are Amazon Affiliate Links for movies worth watching related to the Rocket Center:
Click the links to learn more about these movies.
We spent about three hours at the Space Center including walking dogs and patching a chip in our RV windshield we received on the Albert Arnold Gore Sr. Memorial Highway on our way down. There is a lot to learn and experience for adults. For kids there are a lot of visual and hands on displays. Our brood was erratically moving from exhibit to exhibit and it was difficult to focus on one item or comprehensively understand the purpose of each section. As parents, we slowed the kids down and read with them to provide the education and learn a little ourselves. It was a balance to provide what was best for everyone. We left knowing that we missed much and it takes multiple trips to the Rocket Center to get full benefit of this unique museum. We recommend anyone passing through the area to make a stop in Huntsville to stretch your legs and experience American History at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.
If you like this post please click on the affiliate links as you shop and let us know if you have questions or how you enjoyed the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.