“To infinity and beyond!” This phrase, the rallying cry of Buzz Lightyear from the movie Toy Story, is what kept reverberating in my head as I toured the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville recently. I kind of hate to admit that a line from an animated movie was the first to pop into my mind instead of “A few small steps for man, etc.” from Neil Armstrong or President Kennedy’s “We choose to go the moon,” from the speech he made when promoting the idea of space exploration.
But as I walked around and marveled at the size and scope of the exhibits, I felt a little less guilty. After all, infinity is a concept that, at least for the average guy or gal (and I certainly fall into that category), stands for “just too much to grasp.” The Space & Rocket Center is almost too much to take in.
As a Smithsonian Affiliate and the Official Visitor Center for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, the Space & Rocket Center boasts one of the largest collections of rockets and space memorabilia anywhere in the world.
I was blown away (pun intended) by the massive Saturn V rocket that’s suspended in all its glory from the ceiling in the Rocket Center’s Davidson Center for Space Exploration. The Saturn V launched Apollo 11 and the subsequent Apollo missions.
A simulator gives you an idea of the force (and noise!) exerted by a rocket so large. All I could think about was the sheer terror that would envelop me if I were to have that much rocket fuel firing up below me. (And that’s just one of the many, many reasons I am not an astronaut.)
Equally impressive are the Huntsville people who’ve made the U.S. Space program what it is. The Center does a great job detailing the history of the “space race” and spotlighting the integral role the city and the Center played. Thanks to the innovation at Redstone Arsenal and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville went from being the Watercress Capital of the World to earning the nickname “Rocket City” and now has one of the highest numbers of PhD’s per capita in the country.
When you go, you’ll want to stroll through Rocket Park and its twenty-seven missiles and rockets to learn how advancements in army rocketry pushed America’s space program forward. And then of course you’ll also want to immerse your senses in the action of a compelling movie shown on at the Center’s state-of-the-art IMAX dome screen.
And by all means, fight for a spot in one of the Center’s interactive exhibits and simulators that stay covered-up with kids. All ages have a blast participating in activities that teach about gimble, G-forces, and other laws of physics that make my head hurt when I think about them too long. The Space Shot shows you exactly what a rocket launch feels like, including three full seconds of heady weightlessness, as it propels you 140 feet straight up in a mere two and a half seconds.
You can actually explore a replica of the International Space Station to gain a a new level of respect for astronauts and the “special” living and working conditions they endure in the name of science. (Accomplishing anything in such cramped quarters is an amazing feat all on its own.)
There’s always much more to see and do, including special exhibits and events happening all year long. Take the next free weekend you’ve got and check out the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and all it offers. You’ll leave entertained, educated, and inspired.
SEE MORE U.S. SPACE & ROCKET CENTER PHOTOS HERE: