Huntsville's Space Center marks starting point of nation's space travel

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Jul. 31—HUNTSVILLE — America's visual memory banks are flooded with the unforgettable plumes of flame from tall rocket ships as they've roared into space from the Florida coast.

The reality of the nation's journey into space actually starts with the testing of those engineering marvels at a complex a couple of hours up the highway from Anniston.

Dr. Werner Von Braun, the German wizard of rocketry, understood the historical significance of both the Redstone Arsenal and the Marshall Space Flight Center when he became the head of the latter in 1960.

The place continues to be relevant today, as most of the critical hardware of the recently deployed James Webb Space Telescope was tested there. The site was also announced as the new headquarters for the U.S. Space Command.

Von Braun had already said a decade before they happened that rocket flights to the moon were possible and, once named to lead that mission of discovery, he envisioned a site where the history and artifacts of that mission could be enshrined.

The Alabama Space and Rocket Center, now known as the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, opened its doors March 17, 1970, shortly after man's second landing on the moon.

The Saturn V rocket that stands tall above its physical plant has become an icon of the Huntsville skyline just as the Empire State Building is for New York, and its site was given the address "1 Tranquility Base" — the name of Apollo 11's landing site.

Much has changed over the past half century for the center besides the name.

The development of Space Camp, a program designed for kids and adults to fully immerse themselves in the workings of space, remains fully booked and was even the basis of a popular movie of the same name filmed at the Space Center.

Now affiliated with the Smithsonian Museum, the Space Center has added the Davidson Center for Space Exploration. It is staffed by many who once worked with the space program and allows visitors to walk stem from stern underneath a Saturn V rocket which took men to the moon. A lunar rover, a simulated lunar lander, and an actual moon rock are also displayed.

There is the opportunity to feel the cramped quarters of the space station as one discovers how astronauts live in zero gravity.

Just as the times and the technology have changed, so have the exhibits.

A new planetarium and a virtual reality Apollo 11 simulator are just a few of the many new interactive exhibits which are available for an added fee.

IF YOU GO

The U.S. Space and Rocket Center is open daily from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. except for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year's Day.

General Admission is $30 for ages 13-adult, $20 for ages 5-12, and free for children under 4.

Admission and the purchase of tickets for additional interactive attractions can be done online at www.rocketcenter.com.