Friday, April 13, 2012

Day 7 - 8: Huntsville, AL aka "Rocket City"!

After visiting the petrified forest in Mississippi, we had planned on heading for the Georgia coast.  Then we discovered in one of our travel books (Off The Beaten Path, very good book - thanks Boyets and Ryders!) that Huntsville is home to a space and rocket museum.  We decided this was a worthwhile detour and headed there.

If you're ever in the Huntsville area you should make a point of going.  It's easy to find because it's got this huge sign...

...and the 10 story tall Saturn V rocket is a pretty good landmark too!
Look thru the windows of the building and you'll notice there's another one on its side.

There's also a CIA Blackbird spy plane out front.
This plane set several speed and altitude records.  It went from CA to NY in 68 minutes!

There's a great little RV park right on the grounds within a short bike ride of the museum.

We arrived late in the afternoon and pedaled over to the museum just to look around the exterior and were told that it was Yuri's Night.  Yuri Gagarin was the first person to travel into space and every year his birthday is celebrated all over the world.  We wandered in to see what it was all about and ended up with free tickets! (Thanks, Clay!)

So after taking care of the dog and doing a quick wardrobe change, we headed back over to check out the festivities under the Saturn V Rocket!

It was great!  They had a DJ and a dance floor set up at one end and stuff for the kids at the other.

This also gave us the opportunity to check out some of the exhibits, which were pretty amazing.    It's incredible what the engineers and astronauts accomplished in such a short time span.  In about 50 years, they went from inventing simple propulsion rockets to Walking.On.The.Moon.  It's very impressive.

Meanwhile, there was drinking, dancing, and costumes!  There were lots of Star Wars, Astronauts, and Trekkies in attendance.  Alabamans definitely know how to have a good time.  The atmosphere was kind of like a big wedding reception! 

Unfortunately we didn't pack costumes so we had to improvise...

As we left, there was an astronomer with a pretty sophisticated telescope set up for party goers to look at the night sky.  Here, Angie gets a close up look at the craters of the moon.

I've heard of the "kite-eating tree" but this is a rocket-eating tree!

Adjacent to the campground is this launch pad where the Space Camp kids get to launch the rockets that they've built.  The first day we arrived we got to see some launched with C class engines that all flew successfully without any crashes.  When they parachute to the ground a lot of them end up in the surrounding trees.

Wernher von Braun, aka "Rocket Man."
von Braun was a German rocket scientist that surrendered to the US at the end of WWII and we're lucky he did.

In Germany he had a team of 300 scientists, 118 were chosen to join him in the US to continue their research.  The project was dubbed "Operation Paperclip" because a paperclip was attached to the file of each man chosen.

von Braun, since he was a child, had always dreamed of space travel and rocketry.  Unfortunately, his inventions, such as this V2 rocket, were used in Germany for warfare.  He actually considered taking his research to Russia, but decided on the US because he was more optimistic about how we would use it.  Once in the US, he was able to shift his focus back to his goal of space travel. This rocket evolved into the launch vehicle for the Saturn V rocket program.  Pretty fascinating stuff, you can read more about him here.  He was a VERY accomplished scientist, sportsman, family man, and musician.  Quite a guy.

The Space Center also includes a "Globe IMAX" theatre where we saw "Hubble," about the mission to re-fit the Hubble telescope.  This is a fantastic documentary, see it if you have the opportunity.  If it's impressive to think how far space travel came in just 50 years, it's just mind-boggling to think how much more is out there, ready to explore!  The pictures this telescope has sent back to Earth are beautiful.  They look like science fiction, like straight out of "Star Trek."  But it's real. 

Moon LeTigre!
Actually, this never made it to the moon but it sure would make a killer RV!

The park behind the museum has a few rides.  This one is called "Space Shot".
It's supposed to give you a feeling of weightlessness...

I'm all smiles before the ride.  I screamed like a little girl when this thing shot off.  It blows you straight up at 60 miles per hour and you float out of your seat at the apex and then it freefalls and bounces several times before you reach bottom.  Ugh.

Posing with the model lunar lander and of course the Saturn V rocket.

There's even a retired shuttle!  That orange tank below the shuttle was filled with 500,000 gallons of fuel (hydrogen and liquid oxygen)....just to get the shuttle out of the atmosphere.

We went back into the museum where the party had been the night before to see the rocket in better light.

It's really cool.  It's divided up into its different stages so you can see when and where each part breaks off during the launch.

One of my favorite displays was this restored Airstream that was used as a Moblie Quarantine Facility for astronauts returning from the moon.  At the time, they weren't sure if there were dangerous microorganisms on the moon so they kept the returning astronauts quarantined for 3 days inside this!

Worn out from a day in space, we returned to the campsite to relax...

Next: Smoky Mountains!

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