When people think about the United States Space Program most have images of Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center. A smaller number will think about the Houston Space Center in Texas. Only a few will think about the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, AL. At the end of World War II, Wernher von Braun and the team of scientists who headed up the German rocket program for the Third Reich surrendered to the U.S. Army in Peenemunde, Germany. These scientists and the captured V-1 and V-2 rockets were shipped to the White Sands Proving Grounds in New Mexico for testing and research. On June 1, 1949 the Army designated the Redstone Arsenal as the Ordnance Rocket Center. Von Braun and his team of over 130 scientists were transferred there to Redstone White Sands in 1950.
Today the Arsenal is still active in rocket engine development and tactical rocket systems. It is also the home to the Marshall Space Flight Center that developed the Saturn launch vehicles for the Apollo Moon Program.
Visitors can tour the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, the Visitor Center for both the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Marshall Space Flight Center. The U.S. Space and Rocket Center is housed in two buildings, the Space and Rocket Center and the Davidson Center for Space Exploration, and display more than 1,500 artifacts of America’s achievements in space exploration. One of the first programs we viewed was about the International Space Station (ISS). We were able to see live videos being broadcast from the ISS and learned how to find out when it would fly over close to our location. You can also go online to view video of the earth from the ISS.
Walking through the main building exhibits we saw President Kennedy’s speech at Rice University announcing the Moon program. We also saw the wide variety of devices that were invented at the Space Center, many of which we use in our day to day lives. I’m sure a few of you remember this invention.
In the Davidson Center for Space Exploration we watched the 3D movie, “Space Next.” Space Next offers a glimpse into tomorrow, and the possibilities of what is to come through private space developments and national space programs. The central focus of the Davidson Center is the full size model of the Saturn V rocket. There we were able to trace the history of the Space Program from the German V-2 rocket to the present. A secondary focus is on the Apollo Program with models of the Lunar Rover, the actual Apollo 16 Capsule, a model of Skylab (the first space station), and the remains of Skylab that survived its fall from orbit. An interesting feature of the Davidson Center is the team of retired rocket scientists that volunteer as docents and guides.
The U.S. Space & Rocket Center is also the home to Space Camp, founded in 1982 as an educational camp program for children using the United States space program as the basis to promote math and science to children. The camp provides residential and educational programs for both children and adults.
The Huntsville Visitor and Tourist Bureau give walking tours every Saturday. The Saturday we were there we had a light drizzly rain, but we had a big crowd for it any way. Our guide led us to a variety of houses in the historic area. Some of the homes were owned by Northern sympathizers during the Civil War, some were rented to Wernher von Braun and his team, and some that were supposedly haunted. It was a very interesting way to learn about the history of the city.
Huntsville has an impressive Veterans Memorial Park. The statues on the main memorial were inspiring. The “Patriot Trail” gave a personal touch to history with stories of actual Huntsville area veterans from the Revolutionary War to the present. It was one of the best memorials I have seen around the country.
During this visit we stayed at the military RV park at the Redstone Arsenal. This is the newer of two campgrounds at Redstone. It has huge pull-through sites and is a short walk/bike ride to the Post Exchange and Commissary. The Arsenal is a quiet post in regards to traffic and easy to get around. I used the Hobby Shop to make some repairs to my guitar case and prepare our camp sign for refinishing. The volunteer staff was great and couldn’t have been more helpful.
On April 23rd, we hooked up and headed north to Mammoth Cave, KY.