Explore the Technology that put a Man on the Moon at the US Space & Rocket Center

US Space & Rocket Center Saturn V Rocket, Photo Credit Violet Sky Adventures
US Space & Rocket Center Saturn V Rocket | Photo Credit Violet Sky Adventures

The US Space & Rocket Center located in Huntsville, Alabama is a thrilling adventure into the history and excitement of rocket engine development in America. Located at Marshall Space Flight Center on the Redstone Arsenal, this complex celebrates the hardworking scientists, engineers, and personnel who helped create the first true American made rockets that eventually got us to the moon. Inside the museum and science center you’ll find rocket engines, moon landers, a replica of the International Space Station you can explore, and even a real Saturn V rocket. Touted as the largest spaceflight complex in the world, the US Space & Rocket Center at Marshall Space Flight Center is one museum you should have on your bucket list.

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Things to Do at the US Space & Rocket Center

Home to one of the largest space flight museums in the world, the Rocket Center is far more than just a museum or science center, it’s an interactive experience for every kid at heart who dreamed of being an astronaut one day. This complex boasts a rocket garden, several interactive mockups of space habitats such as the ISS, artifacts from the the early days of space flight, the immersive INTUITIVE® Planetarium, hands-on flight and motion simulators, and a fully intact Saturn V rocket. With so much to explore, there will be fun for the whole family all day long!

For a map of the US Space & Rocket Center complex click here.

F-1 Rocket Engine used on the Saturn V Rocket at the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville Alabama, Photo Credit Violet Sky Adventures
F-1 Rocket Engine at the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL | Photo Credit: Violet Sky Adventures

Exhibits & Attractions

Feature Exhibit Hall

When you first enter the US Space & Rocket Center you’ll come across the Feature Exhibit Hall which hosts a rotating schedule of science and space exhibits that both travel the country and are purpose made just for the Marshall Space Flight Center. Often these exhibits showcase spaceflight history, leading aerospace design, and future concepts for space flight and moon/mars trips. Check the Space Center’s website for scheduling.

International Space Station Full Scale Model

Just past the Feature Exhibit Hall you’ll find the NASA Space Camp & Interactive Lab where youth from all over the country come to learn how to be astronauts for a summer. While most of the building is sectioned off for classroom visits and space camp members, visitors to the complex can tour the full scale model of the space station and get a feel for how astronauts and cosmonauts from all over the world live in space year-round. Inside you’ll learn how astronauts perform science experiments in space and how they operate and maintain the entire station with the help of the Canadarm.

ISS Simulator at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville Alabama, Photo Credit Violet Sky Adventures
ISS Simulator at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL | Photo Credit: Violet Sky Adventures

Rocket Garden & Space Shuttle Park

Traveling outside, you’ll find every space fans dream as you come face to face with the actual rockets and test articles that paved the way to putting Americans in space! In the Rocket Garden the Space Center has preserved famous rockets like the Atlas-F which was one of the first ICBMs ever flown, and the Saturn-I test rocket that proved the concept for the later Saturn V which took astronauts to the moon. Both of these rockets were developed at the Marshall Space Flight Center and Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. The Rocket Garden hosts several other historic artifacts including a mockup of the Skylab space station used for testing in the early days of the program, and several rocket engines.

Just a short walk away, you’ll find Space Shuttle Park which is home to genuine components of the Space Transport System (STS) which helped propel the Space Shuttle into space over 100 times. Included are real Solid Rocket Boosters and the External Tank which attached to the Space Shuttle for flight. All of these components were designed, tested, and manufactured in Alabama. Today they stand as a testament to the hard work and dedication of all of the personnel in and around the Marshall Space Flight Center.

Apollo 16 Capsule at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville Alabama, Photo Credit Violet Sky Adventures
Apollo 16 Capsule at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL | Photo Credit: Violet Sky Adventures

Saturn V Hall & History Center

Best known for the long history of rocket design at Marshall Space Flight Center, the museum complex is home to the Davidson Center for Space Exploration where you can find Saturn V Hall. Here the museum hosts the full-scale, real-life Saturn V rocket along with actual rocket engines like the F-1, H-1, and RL-10 which helped propel America into space. Inside the hall you’ll also find training versions of the Mercury and Gemini capsules, along with the actual command module from the Apollo 16 mission that flew to the moon and back. The hall features all the rich history and contributions that the Marshall Space Flight Center has made to America’s space endeavors. While you are there, keep your eye out for people standing around the exhibits in lab coats, because you may just get to talk to a NASA Scientist. Yes, these are real Apollo and Space Shuttle engineers that worked on the rockets! So stop by and ask them questions because they love to talk about all the fascinating things they did to help get a man on the moon!

National Geographic Theater and Planetarium at the US Space & Rocket Museum in Huntsville Alabama, Photo Credit Violet Sky Adventures
National Geographic Theater at the US Space & Rocket Museum in Huntsville, AL | Photo Credit: Violet Sky Adventures

National Geographic Theater

While you are inside the Davidson Center, check out the National Geographic Theater. The wide screen and Dolby Digital sound system will immerse you in science and wonder as it takes you on an adventure of exploration. The theater hosts a number of special movies made just for the US Space & Rocket Center and none of them are worth missing! The theater is typically part of your general admission to the Space Center but make sure you go online to check movie listings and times.

Experiences & Simulators

INTUITIVE® Planetarium

One of the premiere IMAX theaters in the Southeast, the INTUITIVE® Planetarium features one of the most dazzling displays of our universe and our solar system you will ever witness. This immersive experience will take you on a journey like you have never seen before using real footage and recreations from images and videos captured by the Mars Rover, Hubble Telescope, James Webb Telescope, and much more. During the daytime, shows are held for audiences of all ages, while events later in the evening like Cocktails & Cosmos are held throughout the year along with special events. Entrance into the planetarium is not included with general admission. For more information about ticket and special events visit the planetarium’s website.

Motion & Flight Simulators

Throughout the main exhibit building you’ll find simulators designed to replicate the experiences that astronauts will encounter as they explore space and beyond. Get hands on as you enter MaxFlight a multi-sensory 360 degree flight simulator, or strap into the driver seat of Apollo 11 as you simulate the first time humans landed on the moon. With several simulators to choose from there is fun for all ages and abilities. Some of the more specialized simulators may not be included with the price of admission so check the website or ticket office for more information.

G-Force & Moon Shot

Looking to take your space explorer experience to new heights? The Moon Shot simulator will strap you in and blast you off into the air just like a real rocket launch. As you accelerate you’ll experience 3G’s of gravitational force, and as you return back to earth you’ll feel almost weightless just like in space. If training like a real astronaut has always been a dream of yours, check out the G-Force simulator. Just like every movie you’ve ever seen about astronauts training, this simulator straps you in and spins you at 45mph to simulate the extreme g-forces you’ll feel during space flight. Not for the faint of heart, these simulators are the real experience.

Kids Cosmos

Need to take a break and let the kids get out some energy? Kids Cosmos is a space themed playground where young kids can crawl, climb, slide, and imagine themselves in space aboard the International Space Station. Located next to the Rocket Garden, this is a great spot to stop with your family and take a break.

SCUBA Experience

This underwater astronaut training experience will have you embarking on your own exciting journey to simulate zero gravity the same way astronauts do. Diving with a skilled instructor, participants will descend 24-feet to the bottom of the training pool to partake in skill exercises designed to prepare astronauts to work and maintain the ISS. This adventure is a very unique and thrilling experience typically offered on most weekends. The experience is subject to limitations and qualifications so check out the website and contact the facility for more information.

NASA Space Camp Experience at US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville Alabama, Photo Credit NASA
NASA Space Camp Experience at US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL | Photo Credit: NASA

NASA Space Camp

For every kid who has ever dreamed about going into space, NASA Space Camp is the closest they can get without getting accepted into the Astronaut program. This interactive classroom and hands on experience takes kids and adults of all ages deep into the inner workings of NASA flight hardware and training to inspire the next generation of space explorers. With multiple programs for all ages, NASA Space Camp is designed to teach participants the engineering and scientific skills needed to advance their knowledge about space flight and space support systems that may one day help them land a job at NASA.

Typically hosted during the summer, getting into space camp can be competitive and space is limited so be prepared as there are usually wait lists for certain programs that may extend out as far as a year in advance. NASA Space Camp also partners with educators to provide specialized STEM training that can help propel your classroom into outer space. For more information about space camp visit their website and don’t miss your opportunity to take your first step to being the next astronaut to go to space!

The History of Marshall Space Flight Center

During WWII there were 3 complexes around the Huntsville, Alabama area that were used to store and test large amounts of ammo for the US Army. After the war concluded they were combined into what is now known as the Redstone Arsenal. In the years that followed WWII, the US worked hard to develop a new modern age of rockets for the US Army as tensions heated up with the Russians and the Cold War began. Just after the war, rocket design and testing began almost immediately centered at Ft. Bliss in Texas, with full stage rockets being tested at White Sands in New Mexico. While remote locations are good for testing new rockets, the design and manufacturing of rocket engines requires a lot more resources. In 1950, the US Army made the decision to move all rocket engine design to the Redstone Arsenal since the facility was already heavily involved in in the testing of new engines. By the beginning of 1950 nearly 1,000 personnel were now located in Huntsville, Alabama.

For the next several years engineers and scientists were hard at work creating an entirely new class of rockets that were capable of reaching space, these rockets would come to be known as the Redstone Family of rockets. While these rockets were military in origin, the civilian designers of these rockets lead by Wernher von Braun had a larger goal in mind as they developed these rockets, getting humans into space. In September of 1954 Von Braun proposed using a PGM-11 Redstone rocket with a specially designed capsule on top to launch a person into space. While skeptical at first, Congress and the US Military saw the benefit of this idea which would become Project Orbiter. In 1956 the program was green lit by Congress and both the US Army and US Navy were in competition to develop a rocket that could put payloads into space. After the Russians beat the US into space by putting Sputnik 1 and Sputnik 2 into orbit, America was determined to prove they could do the same thing. The Navy program with their Vanguard Rocket were chosen to go first, but on December 6, 1957 the rocket struggled to get off the pad and crashed back into the ground. On January 31, 1958 it was the US Army’s turn to try with their Jupiter-C rocket which was designed at the Redstone Arsenal. The rocket successfully made it into space and put Explorer 1 into Orbit, the first US spacecraft to orbit the planet.

Marshally Space Complex S-IC Rocket Engineers
Marshally Space Complex S-IC Rocket Engineers | Photo Credit: NASA

Following the success of the ABMA team at the Redstone Arsenal, the US Army created the Advanced Research Projects Agency with the expressed goal of jointly creating a large booster rocket that could create 1.5 Million pounds of thrust, this rocket would come to be known as the Saturn Rocket. Shortly after the Army’s success, President Eisenhower and Congress would sign into law the National Aeronautics and Space Act which would lead to the creation of NASA. With help from the newly formed ARPA, NASA would go on to launch several rockets under the Mercury and Gemini programs. Realizing that manned space flight should be independent from the US Military, President Eisenhower moved over all human flight development to the civilian run NASA.

On July 1, 1960 part the Redstone Arsenal officially became the Marshall Space Flight Center under the control of NASA. Immediately after, the nearly 4,700 personnel that now worked at the facility turned their sole attention to getting humans into space and beyond. Wasting no time, Von Braun now director of the facility, focused all his attention on Project Mercury. On May 5, 1961, all of the teams hard work converting the military Redstone rockets into the Mercury-R rocket would pay off when Astronaut Alan Shepard became the first person to go to space and come back. Just 20 days after that historic flight, President Kennedy would commit all the resources of the US Government to putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade, and that wouldn’t have happened without the Marshall Space Flight Center.

Throughout the 1960’s Marshall Space Flight Center would become home to some of the most important technological breakthroughs in rocket design like the F-1 Engine, the J-2 Engine, and the Saturn V rocket that would eventually lead to Apollo 11 and Neil Armstrong walking on the moon on July 20, 1969. During that time the complex oversaw the design and testing of most of the critical hardware that was necessary to put the Saturn V rocket into space such as the S-IC first stage, S-II second stage, and S-IVB third stage segments. Many of the Saturn V components were tested on stands out on the old Redstone Arsenal and those tests provided critical information that lead to improvements in the rocket.

Skylab Orbital Space Station in 1974, Photo Credit NASA
Skylab Orbital Space Station in 1974 | Photo Credit: NASA

By the end of the 1960’s popularity for the cost of the Apollo program had begun to falter and NASA wanted to make the most out of the rockets they had already built. In 1965, NASA began design and testing on the “Orbital Workshop” which would become a science platform in space orbiting the earth where NASA could perform experiments that could only be performed in space. In 1970 the platform was renamed Skylab. Designed and tested at the Marshall Space Flight Complex, Skylab represented the first time humans would go to space for an extended period of time to live and work. In total, astronauts spent 171 days at the orbital space lab, logged nearly 2,000 hours on some 300 science experiments, and paved the way for future space stations like the ISS.

During the 1970’s the Marshall Space Flight Center would be involved in pushing the boundaries of spaceflight by designing missions and hardware that would lead to most of the modern innovations in space travel we think of today. In 1975 they launched the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project which was a joint project with the Russians to see if they could dock two different types of space vehicles together in space. The mission was a success and marked the first time astronauts and cosmonauts would meet in space. The research that went into accomplishing this feat would lead to the modern docking systems that were used on the Shuttle, ISS, and most modern space capsules like SpaceX Dragon and the Boeing Starliner. While the ASTP program was important, a number of engineers were also hard at work developing the next evolution in space vehicle design, highly reusable space vehicles that could control their descents back to earth much like a plane.

RS-25 Space Shuttle Engine in Testing, Photo Credit NASA
RS-25 Space Shuttle Engine in Testing | Photo Credit: NASA

In January 1972, President Nixon announced the plans to develop a reusable vehicle known as a Space Transport System (STS) that would make routine flights to space. By the time the vehicle was in full design, the public would come to know it as the Space Shuttle. One of the most highly complex vehicles ever created, the engineering and development of the Shuttle Propulsion was centered at Marshall Space Flight Center. Historic Engines like the RS-25 started with the engineers at Marshall testing the limits of engine design and the principals of high pressure combustion chambers and turbo pumps. The engines that would ultimately go onto the Space Shuttle were leaps forward in engine design and reliability. Other engineers would work on the giant orange External Fuel Tank (ET) that fueled the RS-25 engines, and the Solid Booster Rockets (SRBs) that helped the shuttle get off the launch pad. On April 12, 1981 the Space Shuttle Columbia successfully completed the first orbital test flight of the STS Shuttle system. Marshall SFC would remain the headquarters for all things related to the engines and shuttle propulsion helping test flight hardware and troubleshoot issues with the engines before all flights into space.

Along with the Shuttle engines, Marshall SFC would also oversee many of the science experiments that would go up in the shuttle and be performed from the Shuttle’s internal cargo bay. While many of the early science experiments were performed on simple platforms bolted into the Shuttle’s bay, NASA would join forces with the European Space Agency (ESA) to develop the Spacelab, a modular airtight science pod where astronauts could freely operate experiments without the need for a space suit. The design of this module would lay the framework for the International Space Station (ISS).

ESA Spacelab being loaded into the Space Shuttle , Photo Credit NASA
ESA Spacelab being loaded into the Space Shuttle | Photo Credit: NASA

During Marshall Space Flight Centers long history, it has also been the epicenter of design for groundbreaking scientific satellites such as the Hubble Telescope, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, and the Compton Gama Ray Observatory. Recently, Marshall SFC has been apart of the design process for the SLS/Constellation Program which will propel the Artemis Program back to the moon using the Orion Capsule. Currently, Marshall SFC still oversees most of the research that goes on in the US Laboratory Module (Destiny) on the ISS.

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