One Day Trip: U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama

(Photo: WATE)

HUNTSVILLE, Alab. (WATE) – Before the summer ends, East Tennessee families may want to get in one more road trip.

Huntsville, Alabama has many fun and educational opportunities for families, including the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.

WATE 6 On Your Side’s Whitney Good visited the center to experience the fun.

Huntsville is a 217-mile drive from Knoxville, taking under four hours to arrive. Visitors will be greeted with a sight of large rockets and shuttles hovering over the museum.

Director of Communications Pat Ammons gave WATE a full tour to show us what you can expect.

The property consists of two large museum buildings. Inside the first are several informative exhibits about how space travel began and the people behind the initial idea to travel out of this world.

Related: 6 unique family-friendly trips from Knoxville

There is also a mock-up of the International Space Station allowing visitors to get a look at how life works inside the ISS.

“This is actual food,” Ammons said, showing off a case of dehydrated space food. “This is the size of one of their food racks.”

There are exhibits explaining the technology used to reclaim any moisture in the air so astronauts can use it for any water needs, including rehydrating their food.

And then, of course, there is an exhibit explain what all inquiring minds want to know.

“Every ten-year-old wants to know how do they go to the bathroom in space? And this is an illustration,” Ammons said. “The key is to think about suction.”

A huge part of what they do in Huntsville is Space Camp. It is mostly catered toward children, but they do have adult and family space camps as well.

The center hosts sometimes up to 1,200 students a week for Space Camp, and they are working all over the Space and Rocket Center learning all about what working in the space industry is like.

Kid come from all over the world, and Ammons says even though they only spend a week many of them leave with lifelong friends. Some of them even continue into adulthood becoming very successful astronauts.

The tour continues with a trip outside. One of the first things that will catch your eye is a shuttle hoisted into the air on large beams.

“What you’re looking at here is Pathfinder which is not a flown orbiter but a very important part of the program. This was used for testing purposes,” Ammons said. “This is the only place in the world that you will actually see a full stacked shuttle.”

Follow the sidewalk into Rocket Park where you will see many replicas of various types of early rockets as well as some that were used for testing purposes towering high above. Any rockets that flew into space would have burned up on re-entry or now be what is called “space junk”.

The largest here in Huntsville is The Saturn V. It is 363-feet-tall, and one of the crafts that carried astronauts to the moon.

“When you look at that and you look at what we’ve achieved it just pretty much blows your mind,” Ammons said.

Also in Rocket Park, there are two rides that demonstrate the G Forces you might feel if you were flying into space.

Inside the second building, another Saturn V hovers as you walk below and witness the history of the space program.

Here many early space capsules and show what the beginners of the space program went through to create the objects that would get a man to the moon.

They showcase the actual Apollo 16 capsule which carried three men to the moon.

“You would have had John Young, you would have had Ken Mattingly and Charlie Duke, and this was their ride three days to the moon,” Ammons said.

There are several interactive things for people to do like climbing into a capsule which gives visitors an idea of what it was like for the early astronauts to fly into space.

“These are true pioneers,” Ammons said.

Next to the Apollo 16 capsule, there is a little piece of the extra-terrestrial right here on Earth.

“Alan Bean (on the Apollo 12 mission) says he remembers this as being one of his favorite moon rocks,” Ammons said.

The Space and Rocket Center is a tribute to the great minds that took us where no man had been before while looking forward to what is still out there.

“To imagine the future, to imagine if they’re a child what their world could be in the future but also just to celebrate what we’ve done,” Ammons said.

Ammons recommended at least a couple hours to be able to see everything there is to offer at the center, but she said it is easy to spend more than one day going over everything in great detail.

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