Where Are We Going?
“Want to go to the space station?” My dad asked me as we were planning on our fall trip to Alabama. What on earth was he talking about? I haven’t packed my spacesuit for a Mars mission!
Dad later explained we were visiting the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Locals refer to their town as “Rocket City” thanks to the German genius who made space exploration for America possible: Wernher von Braun.
Wernher von Braun: Father of Rockets
Von Braun’s early exposure to astronomy and science fiction inspired him to a lifetime of rocket engineering. His mother made a valuable contribution to his imagination:
“For my confirmation, I didn’t get a watch and my first pair of long pants, like most Lutheran boys. I got a telescope. My mother thought it would be the best gift.” -Wernher von Braun (Time; Feb 17, 1958)
Von Braun assembled rockets for the German army early in his lifelong journey. After a few mistrials during WWII, von Braun switched to the American side and shaped Huntsville into a star city in space exploration history.
Visiting the Space Center
It’s hard to miss the U.S. Space and Rocket Center driving down I-565. The Saturn V rocket stands like a beacon for those who can’t find their way to the attraction.
I stepped through the space center entrance and entered a new world. Employees were clad in blue space jumpsuits, presenting their true stories to eager listeners. Young rocketeers walked in line as they headed off to their next space camp mission. I stumbled into a real space station!
Space-loving kids will have a blast (no pun intended) with all the programs the center offers. They have three distinct camps: robotics, space, and aviation. The robotics group learns the basics of engineering building impressive K’NEX models.
Future astronauts who achieved all their space training onsite attend graduation at the Davidson Space Center.
As an avid alien fan, I was ready to see what the Aliens Worlds & Androids exhibit had in store. Life-sized figures of Iron-Man and BB8 greeted me; Delighted children squealed as they interacted with R2-D2.
I learned a great deal about Pompeii worms. These tiny “alien” life forms lived deep in the Pacific Ocean. Their fleece-like features help them adapt to residing near scorching hydrothermal vents.
Outside the center, space simulators awaited those brave enough to ride. Participants can test their fear of heights on the Moon Shot and their endurance on the G-Force.
Not feeling for thrill rides for the sake of my sensitive stomach, I strolled through Rocket Park. They were many on display including the Saturn I Block II, the U.S. Army Jupiter, and the U.S. Army Redstone, von Braun’s first ballistic missile created in Huntsville.
I made one last stop to visit the Davidson Center to learn the nooks and crannies of rocket development. Building a rocket was no easy feat! The Saturn V took five years to make. One single mishap could spell disaster for all those aboard.
The U.S Space and Rocket Center is a treat for cosmos fans old and young. This place has awakened the kid in me who dreamed of interstellar travel and partying with Martians.
Looking back at America’s past accomplishments makes me wonder what will happen in the next 50 years from now. None would’ve been made possible if von Braun didn’t think space travel was feasible. Thankfully, his faith brought us closer to the stars.
“There is just one thing I can promise you about the outer-space program: Your tax dollar will go further.” -Wernher von Braun, (Reader’s Digest; May 1961)
If You Visit the US Space and Rocket Center: