You may have heard of Space Camp, but did you know that you don’t need to attend camp in order to visit the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama? Every year on our annual trip to Gulf Shores, Alabama, we drive past Huntsville, Alabama where we see the billboard for the museum. Every year I say to myself, “I wish we had time to stop and visit.” While planning our trip this year, I discovered that the U.S. Space & Rocket Center is part of the Association of Science-Technology Centers, which means that it has a reciprocal agreement with other museums allowing us free admission since we are members of our local science museum. So I planned our trip to include an overnight stop in Huntsville so that we could visit the museum.
Quite honestly, I wasn’t sure how excited my kids would be. As it turns out, without even trying, we had managed to visit five other aviation or space attractions in the last year. We had been to the National Naval Aviation Museum, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, the NASA Glenn Visitor Center inside the Great Lakes Science Center, the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park, the National Museum of the United States Air Force, and my son had also visited Kennedy Space Center on a school trip. Could my kids really handle yet another museum about aviation and space? Could I? I couldn’t blame my kids if they were a little tired of air and space, because I was right there with them. I need not have worried. The U.S. Space & Rocket Center’s approach to teaching about space flight through simulators and amusement park rides made this one the most fun of our unintentional year-long aviation and space museum tour.
The first exhibit we visited was a traveling exhibit about Dr. Wernher Von Braun, who is considered to be the greatest rocket scientist in history. Von Braun started his career in his native Germany and surrendered himself to the United States near the end of World War II. As an American, Von Braun led the effort to develop the Saturn V booster rocket that put a man on the moon. We learned about Von Braun’s life, including his early interest in rockets that led him to attach fireworks to a toy wagon. Don’t try this one at home, kids.
Another exhibit we really enjoyed was a video about what it is like to live in space.
The museum has a large space for traveling exhibits. While we were there they were setting up an exhibit on Black Holes. They were having technical difficulties and it shut down temporarily so we were not able to experience it, but it looked really interesting. So we moved on to some fun stuff, like the Mars Climbing Wall.
This attraction requires close-toed and close-heeled rubber-soled shoes. Thankfully, the people at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center were thoughtful enough to provide a supply of acceptable shoes that you can borrow if you’re like my daughter and think that flip flops are appropriate footwear in February.
From there we moved on to one of the simulators. Unlike many museums, there is no additional fee for the simulators. All but one of the simulators are included with your admission. We went on the Mars Mission.
One simulator ride was enough for me. I managed to make it through the ride without vomiting or pushing the emergency stop button. I asked the attendant if all the simulators were that bad and she said the Mars Mission was one of the more gentle rides. No more simulators for me, thank you very much. I guess I’m not cut out to be an astronaut. My kids really liked it though.
There were plenty of hands-on activities for kids of all ages. My kids were too young for this activity table, but when they were younger, this would have been much appreciated.
We got to sit in a Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU).
If you don’t recognize what it is, then maybe this picture will help.
We also got to see the Monkeynaut’s Rocket.
There were several other hands-on exhibits that held my kids’ interest.
I know this is corny, but I made my kids go pose for an astronaut picture.
Then it was time to head outside to the Rocket Park where there is a large collection of rockets and missiles on display.
The Rocket Park includes a couple of rides. The G-Force allows you to feel three times the force of gravity. Still queasy from the Mars Mission, I skipped this one, but my kids loved it.
The Space Shot allows you to feel 4 G’s of force on “liftoff” and a couple of seconds of weightlessness at the top.
Here’s what it looks like close up.
Since this one had strictly up-and-down motion, I did give it a try. It was really fun. The staff at U.S. Space & Rocket Center sure know how to make learning fun. For younger kids, there is an outdoor play area. You can tell that the people at this museum really know kids. They named this area the Kids Cosmos Energy Depletion Zone.
Next we moved on to the Saturn V Hall, which contains one of only three authentic Saturn V rockets in the world, used in the Apollo missions. The authentic rocket is inside the building lying sideways. To show you what it would look like assembled and upright, they built a model of a Saturn V rocket which is outside the building. It’s BIG.
You can explore the Saturn V Hall on your own or take one of the guided tours. We took one of the guided tours and learned a lot more than we would have if we’d explored on our own.
Here is the ring where the rocket’s “computer” is located. We were told it has less computing power than my daughter’s iPod Touch.
The rocket is disassembled so that you can see the different stages. Here’s the top.
It’s really neat to walk directly underneath it. We also saw a lunar landing module and rover.
We learned that on the moon’s surface there would be no corrosion, so if you showed up on the moon today with a new battery, you could ride the rover that the Apollo astronauts left behind. We also saw a real, used rocket capsule.
Inside the Saturn V Hall there’s another play area for kids. Kids will also like pretending to be astronauts in a training module.
On our way out, we stopped at the Space Shuttle Park, which has a Space Shuttle Simulator stacked with rocket boosters, main engine nozzles, and an external tank.
The U.S. Space & Rocket Center has a few more things that we didn’t have time to see: an IMAX Theater, a 3-D Theater, and Bus Tours to the Marshall Space Center. I would really love to go back again to tour Marshall Space Center. The museum also has a restaurant on site to keep everyone’s tanks filled with fuel.
There are also lots and lots of camps and programs for children, adults, and families. Check out the website for more information.
Ready to visit?
U.S. Space & Rocket Center
One Tranquility Base
Huntsville, Alabama 35805
This attraction appears in my e-book, How to Visit All 50 States in 12 Trips.