The George C. Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) is the U.S. government’s civilian rocketry and spacecraft propulsion research center located at the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama.
Last time we went to Huntsville in 2002, they were not offering the Marshall Space Flight Center bus tours because of security concerns after 9/11. These started back up two years ago and depart from the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. The tour has changed a little, but still very fascinating. No longer on the tour is the Neutral Buoyancy Simulator which is where the astronauts would practice in the very large water tank. Now, you visit various aspects of the International Space Station.
Still on the tour is the original Mercury Redstone Rocket Test Stand and both the Static and Dybnamic Test Stand for the Saturn V Rocket. These two test stand were also used for the Space Shuttle. NASA also is making progress with the development of the Space Launch System (SLS) using these historic testing facilities.
The bus tour is well worth the $12.00, but make reservations in advance to be sure you get a seat.
This was my fourth visit to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. My last visit in 2002 was very disappointing as the whole museum felt very neglected. Reading about the center, it ran into a very large debt by miss management in the late 1990’s.
I was very surprised and delighted with the progress the center is making on this trip. They have built a new building called the Davidson Center for Space Exploration. They have refurbished the old Saturn V Rocket, that used to sit on a trailer outside, and built this beautiful new building around it with some great new exhibits such as the Apollo 16 Command Module and the Quarantine Trailer astronauts stayed in after they returned from the moon. The Saturn V Rocket is a National Historic Landmark, one of only three in the world.
They have also started running the bus tours to the Marshall Space Flight Center and Redstone Arsenal again. They we stopped immediately after September 11, 2001 for security reasons.
Apollo Quarantine Trailer
U.S. Space and Rocket Center
Engine Cluster, Second Stage of the Saturn V
My Daughter and her Friend in an Apollo Command Module Simulator
Underside of the Saturn V Rocket
The New Davidson Building at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center
The US Space and Rocket Center has the Space Shuttle Pathfinder on display in front of Space Camp. To say it is impressive, is an understatement.
Pathfinder was a mock-up built during the initial stages of the shuttle program. Originally unnamed, the simulator was built at the Marshall Space Flight Center in 1977 for use in activities such as checking roadway clearances, crane capabilities and how it fit in various testing facilities that already existed. It was later shipped by barge to the Kennedy Space Center and was used for ground crew testing in the Vehicle Assembly Building, Orbiter Processing Facility, and Shuttle Landing Facility. Pathfinder is approximately the same size, shape and weight of an actual Orbiter. Using Pathfinder allowed for facilities testing without requiring use of the more delicate and expensive Enterprise.
The external fuel tank and solid rocket booster attached to Pathfinder are the real deal!!
I believe at one time I read that Challenger was originally set to retire to this site in Huntsville.
On our way back from Huntsville, we came across Little River Canyon, a few mile east of Fort Payne, Alabama. This is one of those places I would have treasured more time. Watching the kids and families play in the pools above the falls was relaxing and soothing. It would be an awesome place to sit under a tree and read or snooze.
It had been a very long, long time since I had been in a cave. It was on the way to our recent trip to Huntsville and thought we would check it out. It was definitely worth the short detour.
The cave has a huge natural opening that measures 126 feet wide and 25 feet high. The walkways have all been paved so it a fairly easy tour, however, I felt the paving took away a sense of adventure. The farther we went into the cave, the more magnificent the scenery became. Some of the larger rooms were stunning.
This gave me a great opportunity to see what my camera could do in the dark. I used a tripod and took each shot 3 different ways and each one gave a different look and feel.
This was definitely worth the $15.00 admission.
Cathedral Caverns State Park is about 30 minutes southeast of Hunstville, Alabama.