One Tranquility Base, Huntsville, Alabama 35805
Located off I-565 just outside of downtown Huntsville, a pair of Saturn rockets point towards the sky. Just behind them sits a giant space shuttle, beckoning people to visit the US Space and Rocket Center. Consisting of a planetarium, movie theater, outdoor play park, numerous space exhibits, as well as Space Camp, the US Space and Rocket Center is much more than a museum. Guests can easily spend an entire day on its campus.
The US Space and Rocket Center has quite the collection of space artifacts from the earliest days of space exploration up to today. Die-hard fans of space, rocketry, and science will absolutely love this museum (especially the Davidson Center for Space Exploration) and will soak in the plethora of information that’s available here.
Upon entering the US Space and Rocket Center, you walk through the gift shop to get to the ticket counter. After purchasing tickets, guests encounter an exhibit featuring a space journey through pop culture. This exhibit explores the country’s fascination with space, along with memorabilia from the 1950’s-1980’s. Unfortunately, I found this exhibit quite dull, especially being the first room you visit after entering. Most of what is here are collectibles from the days of early space exploration, including newspapers, pop culture references, books, and toys.
Not far into the main building, you’ll find Spark Lab, a children’s exploration area, complete with hands-on exhibits. Here, kids can take part in STEM related activities that engage their critical thinking and problem solving skills, as well as art and creative play.
The largest exhibit in the main building is in an expansive room with various artifacts from earlier space missions, as well details of historical events. Learn about the space race, JFK’s presidency and assassination, items from the Apollo missions, and more. Read about early space exploration, the development of the space shuttle program, and see what astronauts wore and used during training missions and while in space.
Pictured below is the first ever space suit designed for Yuri Gagarin (the first human in outer space), an original newspaper from July 21, 1969 when Americans walked on the moon, and theMMU, a jetpack used in the early days of the space shuttle program.
One highlight of the museum is the planetarium. Be sure to get tickets (additional fee) to catch an astronomy show and learn about the outer reaches of our solar system.
Redstone Arsenal, the large Army base that’s headquartered here in Huntsville, is home to the Army’s missile defense agency as well as NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. Because Redstone Arsenal is the center for research and testing of the Army’s missile programs, you can find an Army exhibit here at the US Space and Rocket Center. In addition to explaining the role of the Army of the future, guests can view missiles used by the military and learn about the Army’s role in space and missile defense.
From the US Space and Rocket Center, visitors can take a bus tour of Redstone Arsenal and tour some facilities within NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. There is an additional fee for this tour. Click here for more information.
Within the main building, there is the Mars Climbing Wall as well as the Hypership, a motion-based flight simulator. Both are included with the price of admission. During the Hypership ride, guests sit inside and watch a movie while experiencing the sounds and motion of the film. Being prone to motion-sickness, I did get a little queasy, but it’s a very mild ride. Keep in mind that the maximum number of guests get squeezed into this attraction and as you slide from side to side on the ride, you will get very close to your unknown seat mates.
Home to the infamous Space Camp, the US Space and Rocket Center features an area where Space Camp students learn and train. One of these facilities is an underwater astronaut trainer. Since I visited around the holidays, you can see in my photos that employees had placed holiday decorations in the tank.
Used during the earlier space years, astronauts once practiced neutral buoyancy simulations here within this tank. Experiencing neutral buoyancy was a key part of training for space walks. Here, they could practice performing repairs and doing various technical skills that they would later do in space. Now the tank is only used for those Space Camp students to practice neutral buoyancy.
You can also explore 2 replicated modules of the International Space Station (ISS) within the main museum building. Learn what astronauts eat, how they sleep, and jobs they perform aboard the ISS. This is also a training area for students enrolled in the Space Camp program.
After exiting the main building, you’ll see large scale exhibits like the T-38 Talon supersonic jet trainer, as well as the Space Shuttle Pathfinder. According to the US Space and Rocket Center, Pathfinder is the only full shuttle stack in the world and was the first orbiter ever built, serving as a non-flight test vehicle. Check them out in the photos below.
In addition, there is a children’s outdoor play area, a few amusement park type rides, and picnic area. Guests can check out a Chinook helicopter, various missiles, and a recreation of the moon landing site of Apollo 11. When the weather is nice, expect to let the kids do some exploring out here. There is plenty to see and plenty of space to run.
Note: There is a cafeteria within the main building of the US Space and Rocket Center. I was pleased to see vegetarian options at their cafe!
The Davidson Center for Space Exploration is a newer building on the campus of the US Space and Rocket Center, created to showcase a Saturn V rocket. This rocket, named a National Historic Landmark, is one of only three in the world. Guests can view the Saturn V rocket, mostly suspended from the ceiling, with separated stages and engines to giving an interesting view of this gigantic rocket.
In this (newer and nicer) building, guests can learn all about the Saturn V rockets that carried the Apollo missions into space. Because the rockets that were actually used fell into the ocean or were discarded into space, the rocket displayed here is made up of flight, test, and replica components. This exact Saturn V rocket here was actually a prototype, the first full scale Saturn V ever made, and it tested the rocket’s response to vibrations. It never launched into space.
Thirteen Saturn V rockets were launched during America’s “Space Race” and exhibits here showcase the power of this rocket, its design, and the accomplishments of the Apollo missions.
You’ll find the exhibits, information, and displays in the Davidson Center newer, more modern, easier to read, and better designed than those in the older main building.
Various simulators and trainers are on display, as well as rocket engines, instruments, components, and details about the Gemini and Saturn V space missions. Guests also learn about Huntsville’s history and how it became known as “Rocket City.”
Towards the rear of the building, you can view a replica of a lunar excursion module that was flown from lunar orbit to the moon’s surface during the Apollo missions.
Guests of the US Space and Rocket center can also see the Apollo 16 Command Module that flew to the moon and back in 1972, bringing back 208 pounds of moon rocks. You can see the command module pictured below. There is even a moon rock on display that was collected during the Apollo 12 mission, picked up from the moon’s Ocean of Storms. This basalt rock helped prove that the Ocean of Storms was created from a sea of lava more than 3 billion years ago.
Other exhibits within the Davidson Center include an astronaut mobile quarantine facility (used after returning from space) as well as a Skylab training module. Skylab was America’s first space station, used for 24 weeks in 1973-1974. This training module was used to train astronauts for life on the Skylab.
Note: In addition to the cafeteria, there is a gift shop within the main building of the US Space and Rocket Center. There is a wide array of NASA, US Space and Rocket Center, as well as Space Camp merchandise available at the gift shop.
The US Space and Rocket Center is a wonderful museum, showcasing America’s achievements in space. Guests both young and old will enjoy the museum’s artifacts and exhibits, marveling at mankind’s ability to not only get humans into space, but to further explore the planets and beyond.