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A visit to NASA's US Space & Rocket Center

sunny 62 °F

(Saturday) Leaving Branson about 1:30 pm I had to travel through the Ozark Mountains going south to pick up I-40 toward Little Rock, AR. It was a grueling trip for highway US 65 is a winding, hilly route which challenged the MH on the steep hills. At one point my speed dropped to 36 mph on a long, steep grade. On the flip-side one has to be cautious in braking for they can over-heat leading to brake failure. Long story-short I made it to Little Rock where I stayed in a Cracker Barrel parking lot for the night, dining there also. Yuk!

(Sunday) More of the same for today was driving in the rain to Florence, AL where I found another Cracker Barrel, staying and dining there. Another yuk!

(Monday) While my next State Capitol destination (and final for the year) is Atlanta, GA. I chose this route because of my interest in visiting the NASA facility in Huntsville, AL.
After leaving Florence I was in Huntsville about 10:00 am. My original thought was to check in at the campground first then go to NASA. However, as I came into town on I-585 there were signs directing to the Space Center so I went there first. Not really knowing what to expect, I found the huge Visitor Center with about 20 rockets displayed outside, the tallest being 363' in height. That is the Saturn 5 Rocket which took the astronauts to the moon. During my 6 hour visit I saw in the Imax theater a movie on space exploration, the International Space Station, and NASA's plans for sending astronauts to Mars by 2030.

A narrated bus tour took us into the Redstone Arsenal army base (38,000 acres!) where we visited various rocket test sites, and the Mission Control building which monitors activities of the International Space Station, minute by minute, 24 hours day. On the TV screens we saw the astronauts working on their various assignments. Very interesting. They told us that 41,000 people are employed there at Redstone including Army personnel, NASA scientists, and Civilian Space Contractors.

A little history of Huntsville, AL.
In the waning days of WWII, Dr. Werner Von Braun realized that Germany's war efforts were futile. He convinced his brother to ride a bike to the US Army battle lines to deliver a message that German rocket scientists wanted to surrender to the Allies. (as opposed to the Russians). An Army Private received the message while on guard duty, forwarded it to his superiors and the rest is history. Von Braun and about 125 rocket scientists surrendered to the Allies, and at VE Day in Europe rocket plans (drawings) and hardware were confiscated from the German army. In the days before Von Braun and his team arrived at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, the city was a small 'Cotton Town' of about 5,000 people. In the early 1950's work progressed on rocket development and when this occurred the US government sited Hunstville as its choice for Von Braun and his team to locate. Within 5 yrs. or so Huntsville's population grew to 50,000 people. Even today, the docent told us that Huntsville has very few 'local' people living here. Most are connected to the Space Program. I just wonder what the average I.Q. of its citizens?!

While on the tour we visited several test sites in the development of the rocket engines. The largest is a concrete building of 375' in height, with a 63' deep foundation, all of poured concrete. The depth was necessary to reach bed rock. When the Saturn V rocket engines (5) were tested in that building the massive power sent a shock wave, recorded on the richter scale as an earthquake, and broke windows all the way to Birmingham, about 3 hours south of Huntsville! We learned of a facility (building) where they keep the temperatures at -400*C to liquify hydrogen, and another building, a wind tunnel, where wind speeds of 3,500 mph can be reached. Various rocket engines were on static display, including an atomic engine powered by nuclear fusion. It has never been used due to congressional political influence against it's use. Another Saturn V rocket is on display in a 400' building, with its sections separated and hanging from the ceiling. It enables the visitor to see inside the cavernous fuel tanks, and the astronaut module on its tip. Very hard to describe its immensity. Along the perimeter of the room are virtual displays where one can simulate navigation of the space craft or the lunar vehicle, along with others. Retired space program docents are on hand to answer questions from the visiting public.
All-in-all, I could have spent another day at the Space & Rocket Center. It was a worthwhile visit.

Posted by dixter 06:36 Archived in USA Tagged huntsville & center space rocket

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