U.S. Space & Rocket Center
US Space & Rocket Center Established 1965 Location Huntsville, Alabama Type Science museum Director Dr. Deborah Barnhart Curator  Website spacecamp.com/museum/ Association of Science-Technology Centers astc.org
The U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama is a museum showcasing rockets, achievements, and artifacts of the U.S. space program. The facility is also home to United States Space Camp and Aviation Challenge. Sometimes billed as "Earth's largest space museum", astronaut Owen Garriott described the place as, "a great way to learn about space in a town that has embraced the space program from the very beginning."
It houses interactive science exhibits, more than 1,500 permanent rocketry and space exploration artifacts, as well as many rotating rocketry and space-related exhibits. The center is located on Interstate 565 at exit 15, near NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.
The U.S. Space Camp is located on the grounds of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. The camp provides residential and day camp educational programs for children in various age groups and adults. These programs include space oriented camp programs, aircraft themed Aviation Challenge camps, and outdoor oriented X-Camp programs.
The idea for the museum was first proposed by Dr. Wernher von Braun, who led the efforts of the United States to land the first man on the moon. Plans for the museum were underway in 1960 with an economic feasibility study for the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce.
Von Braun, understanding the dominance of football in the Alabama culture, persuaded rival Alabama and Auburn coaches Bear Bryant and Shug Jordan to appear in a television commercial supporting a $1.9 million statewide bond referendum to finance museum construction. The referendum passed on November 30, 1965, and a donation of land from the Army's Redstone Arsenal provided a location on which to build.
To help draw tourists from far afield, the center needed a crown jewel. The Huntsville Times reported, "Edward O. Buckbee is the type of guy with the tenacity to 'arrange' for this planet's largest, most complex mechanical beast to become a part of the Alabama Space and Rocket Center at Huntsville. / Pulling off the coup — getting a Saturn 5 moon rocket here which cost 90 times the center itself — was 'a little difficult,' admits Buckbee in a galloping understatement." Buckbee worked with von Braun to see that the Saturn V Dynamic Test Vehicle would be delivered to the site as it was on June 28, 1969. The Saturn I which stands erect at the museum was delivered the same day. Initial plans called for visitors to walk through the Saturn V.
Also on display immediately were the lunar landscape with lunar lander mockup, and a wide variety of hardware from United States Army Aviation and Missile Command, NASA, and aerospace companies, including a helicopter, Pershing missile system displayed as if ready for launch, and the standing rockets as displayed in the photo.
The Space & Rocket Center was a "major sponsor" of the United States pavilion at the 1982 World's Fair, providing exhibits on space and energy as well as equipment and operations for the IMAX theater at the fair. At the time, the Space & Rocket Center also served as the Alabama Energy Information Center.
Mike Wing plunged the Center into debt as its director from 1998 to 1999. Wing oversaw construction of a full-scale vertical Saturn V replica to be finished at the end of the 30th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, July 1999. It serves as a towering landmark in Huntsville, and cost the center $8.6 million of borrowed money. The Huntsville Times estimated interest costs at $10 million. Wing also sought to create a program for fifth grade students in Alabama and elsewhere to attend Space Camp at no cost to them. Anonymous corporate pledges that Wing promised would fund the $800 per student never arrived. The program ultimately cost the center $7.5 million. Wing was pressured to resign, and several members of the governing Alabama Space Science Exhibit Commission were ousted from that board as a result of the debacle. At the end of Wing's term as director, the center was $26 million in debt.
The expenditures would shape more than the next decade for the center. Larry Capps was selected as director after Wing, and he reduced the debt to $16 million while also building the Davidson Center for Space Exploration and moving the Saturn V Dynamic Test Vehicle into its custom-built facility. Capps was director through his retirement in 2010.
A variety of exhibits lay out the story of the early days of space travel through to plans for the future.
From before 1977
- Saturn V Dynamic Test Vehicle – fully restored
- Apollo 12 moon rock
- Apollo 12 Mobile Quarantine Facility
- Apollo 16 command module "Casper"
- "Mind of Saturn" hands-on exhibit covering the workings of Saturn V Instrument Unit
- "The Force" exhibit recreating an F-1 engine test with loudspeakers and light
- Saturn I rocket
- Fragment of the Skylab space station, after its reentry on July 11, 1979.
- F-1, J-2, Space Shuttle main engine, among others
- Several rockets (see the image and caption above)
- A V-2, a V-1 flying bomb
- Pathfinder orbiter mock-up
- Centaur G-Prime upper stage
- Lockheed A-12 "Blackbird" spy plane (incorrectly called an SR-71 in promotional literature)
- Patriot missile and launcher
- 2 Orion CEV exhibits, one with launch escape system and the other open for viewing
- Bigelow Aerospace commercial habitat model
Rides, simulators, and facilities
- Space Shot simulator
- G-Force Accelerator simulator
- Mars Rover simulator
- IMAX Dome Theater - the "Spacedome"
- 3D Movie Theater
In addition, several other simulators are used by Space Camp participants.
Saturn V mock-up
Since 1969, Huntsville residents could point to the Saturn I rocket at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center as a distant landmark (located a few miles from the city center). In 1999, a full-scale model of the Saturn V rocket was erected, standing nearly twice as tall as the Saturn I.
The initial museum building was designed by Huntsville architect David Crowe in a style called "early blockhouse modern."  It features 22,000 square feet (2,000 m2) of exhibit space. An Omnimax (now called IMAX Dome) theater was installed prior to February 28, 1984. The movie SpaceCamp preceded droves more campers (5,000 in 1986 to 11,000 in 1987), for whom facilities were expanded again.
A $3 million NASA Educator Resource Center was built during Larry Capps's tenure.
The newest addition to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center is the Davidson Center for Space Exploration, named after Dr. Julian Davidson, founder of Davidson Technologies. The 68,000 square feet (6,300 m2) building opened January 31, 2008. The Davidson Center was designed to house the Saturn V Dynamic Test Vehicle (listed on the National Register of Historic Places) and many other space exploration exhibits. The vehicle is elevated above the floor surface with separated stages and engines exposed, so visitors have the opportunity to walk underneath the rocket. The Davidson Center also features a 3D movie theater in addition to the IMAX theater in the original museum.
When the Davidson Center opened in 2008, the museum's ticket center and entrance was relocated to the Davidson Center, so it is now the first exhibit museum visitors experience. This, however, necessitated that visitors enter the original museum through the rear doors, causing it to be viewed out of its original sequence.
In the summer of 2010, the US Space and Rocket Center began hosting traveling exhibits. The first was Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination with other exhibits planned. The United States Space Camp hosted at the facility has provided themed camps in conjunction with the exhibits, including a Jedi Experience camp.
Other traveling exhibits:
- The Chronicles of Narnia: The Exhibition Traveling Exhibit
- CSI: The Experience Traveling Exhibit
- A T-Rex Named Sue and Be the Dinosaur
Items not on exhibit
Other items located at the Center but not visible to the general public include:
- Full-scale Skylab training mock-up (one of three built)
- Located in Aviation Challenge compound:
The Center is also the resting place of Miss Baker, a squirrel monkey who flew on a suborbital test flight of the PGM-19 Jupiter rocket on May 28, 1959. Baker lived in a facility at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center for many years until she died of kidney failure on November 20, 1984.
In popular culture
The U.S. Space & Rocket Center was featured on Little People Big World episode "Space Jake" in which Jacob Roloff attended Space Camp in the summer of 2008.
Good Morning America has featured the Space & Rocket Center multiple times. In their 2006 proclamation the "Seven wonders of America", selected the Saturn V and particularly featured the Saturn V Dynamic Test Vehicle at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.
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NASA's George C. Marshall Space Flight Center (Huntsville, Alabama) Directors: Projects: NRHP sites: Other:
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