Southern Places: Huntsville Alabama’s U.S. Space and Rocket Center remembers the 50th anniversary of the moon landing

Some moments in history take our breath away. Fifty years ago, America’s moon landing millions had millions of Americans holding their breath. The Saturn 5 rocket took off from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center on July 16. Inside the rocket were three men. Two of the men, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, would make history as the first Americans to walk on the moon, with Armstrong uttering one of the most iconic phrases in our country’s history.  Michael Collins piloted the command module Columbia. Armstrong and Aldrin took the Eagle, the lunar model to the moon, hence the phrase, “The Eagle has landing.” Eight days after blast off the three men would splash down in the Pacific Ocean.

The U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala. is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the moon landing with an exhibit, “Apollo, When We Went to the Moon.” The exhibit runs until the end of the year so you still have time visit. The Space and Rocket Center also has a permanent exhibit of a Saturn 5 rocket, which is one of only three in the world.

Display at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center

I had not visited the Space and Rocket Center since I was in 6th grade when we took an impromptu visit recently. I have few memories from that trip 40 years ago but the ones I have are unforgettable.  I remember seeing Miss Baker, one of the animals America sent into space. I also remember the G-Force Accelerator, which I got on and got off of for fear I would be sick. I was worried my friends would think I was chicken for getting off but I don’t recall any teasing—at least about that. Miss Baker died in the 1980s and I knew better than to get on the G-Force some 40 years later (my husband, who is normally daring, also declined).

We were there mostly to see the Apollo exhibit, which we found first. The exhibit was more than just displays of memorabilia. Like many of the exhibits at the Space and Rocket Center, the exhibit was interactive with things kids (and big kids) will enjoy. We enjoyed sitting in a ‘moon buggy.’ And I made that ‘one small step for man (or woman) and one giant leap for mankind).

Steve and I try out the “moon buggy”

For me, it was some of the items that some may overlook while enjoying a walk on the moon or time in the buggy. I was moved by a letter from former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, who asked that the contributions of her late husband not be forgotten. It was President John F. Kennedy who passionately stated “we choose to go to the moon” in a speech he delivered on Sept. 12, 1962 in Houston Texas’ Rice Stadium. Kennedy was assassinated in November of 1963  and never lived to see the moon landing  The speech is part of the display and you can hear at the exhibition which includes the famous words: “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.”

The exhibit does not gloss over the turbulent times of the 60s. The battle for civil rights was blazing. Martin Luther King Jr. and others were leading marches and peaceful protests. King’s life would end by an assassin’s bullet in April of 1968. An unpopular war was taking place in Vietnam. The moon landing brought all Americans together on July 20th to watch Armstrong make those historical steps.

One of the displays in the Saturn V Hall at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center

The Space and Rocket Center does not stop telling the story of the historic moon landing with the Apollo exhibit. Saturn V Hall has one of only three of the Saturn V’s on display. You can learn more about the science behind our space journeys. Something I found interesting: the three men had to continue living together in a small space even after they returned to Earth. They were quarantined in an Airstream RV until they were medically cleared. You can sign up for a guided tour of the Saturn V Hall or walk through at your own pace. The hall includes some play areas for kids.

Shuttle Park at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center

The main purpose of our visit was to see the Apollo 11 exhibit. But the Space and Rocket Center has several standing and changing exhibits, rides and experiences. Kids can climb the Mars Climbing Wall or take a ride in the Hypership simulator. Two great exhibits are outside.  Rocket Park gives you a sense of just how big the rockets are. A large space shuttle is the centerpiece of Shuttle Park.  Families can find a diverse menu at the Mars Grill that is reasonably priced. I enjoyed a burrito bowl and my husband had a grilled chicken sandwich and fries. You can spend an entire day there and not do everything.

Huntsville also has several other fun places for families to visit including the Huntsville Botanical Gardens and the Earlyworks Children’s Museum. We will be back to learn more about all of Huntsville has to offer!

U.S. Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, Ala.

Admission: General Admission is $25 for those 13 and older. Admission is $17 for those ages 5-12 and children 4 and younger are free. Senior and military discounts are available. You can purchase several add-ons including movies in the planetarium and guided tours.

Parking: You can park for free right outside the center.

Directions:  Huntsville is located right off U.S. You know you are getting close when you see the large replica of the Saturn V rocket in the distance. Exact directions from your location can be found here.

Dining: The Mars Grill is located inside the center. The food is reasonably priced and you have a lot of variety. Huntsville has several well-known eateries and local restaurants for everyone’s taste.

Where to stay: Huntsville has several brand-name hotels near the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. We booked an apartment through Airbnb that was reasonably priced and had a kitchen just in case we wanted to save money and cook for ourselves.

For more information:

U.S. Space and Rocket Center website

Huntsville/Madison County Convention and Visitors Bureau website

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