Sunday, July 11, 2010

US Space and Rocket Center: Saturn V

Part two of our trip to the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL. Read Part 1 about the special exhibit Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination.

After three hours at the special Star Wars exhibit and a good nap, we were ready for more at the US Space and Rocket Center. As both a mom and a Star Wars fan myself, the exhibit was our number one priority while we were there, and even if we hadn't gotten to do or see anything else, that would have been enough. But admission to the exhibit also included all day admission to the center, so why not take advantage of it? Number one on the secondary hit list was the Saturn V they have in one wing of the complex, but this was pretty high up on the list as well:

This is not an actual shuttle; it is the Pathfinder simulator, but it was still pretty amazing to see (and very difficult to get all in frame!). After that, we split up. Luke and DH wanted to do some of the museum stuff (shuttle landing simulator, Mission to Mars simulator (a motion simulator, which I cannot do), the Mars climbing wall, etc). While I was interested in some of that, I also knew I wanted to spend more time looking at the Saturn V than Luke likely would, so we split up. I got to explore and read as much as I wanted, and they joined me about 45 minutes later. About the only thing you can see when you get to the top of the steps is this:

Those are the 5 engine bells of the first stage. Remember, this is a *real* Saturn V rocket, not a replica, and has been declared a National Historic Landmark. I tried to take some pictures that would give you an idea of the scale of this thing, but photos really and truly do not do it justice. Without a fisheye lens (and maybe even with one!), there was just no way to really get the whole thing in the frame. I gave it my best shot, though!

And I did get the thing I most wanted out of this trip: Luke walking in, pointing up, and exclaiming "wow, look!" He also wanted to know why the rocket was in pieces, so I explained that each stage burned separately in order to get to the moon, and once it was used up, they dropped it off. "How you know that?" Well, I read a book! LOL (We are doing everything we can to encourage him to learn to read, but he's not interested. He wants to be read to, not to do it himself.)

Okay, here you go. Luke is about 4 feet tall (1.2 meters). In the photo above, he is standing directly under the nose cone section of the rocket. There is a replica Saturn V out in the main courtyard standing upright, but somehow, seeing it laid out on its side and walking the full length of the thing, it seemed even bigger. There were plenty of displays along the walls to entertain you on your journey from one end of the nearly 500 foot building to the other. Quick, what's the first thing you think of when you look at the photo below?

How many of you said "Stargate"? LOL Yeah, me too. Comes with the territory, I suppose. Here is a side shot:

This is one of the rings that made the rocket staging possible. All those tubes and wires! It is truly amazing they got it to work at all. There were still more things to see: engine replicas, simulators, a full size mockup of the Orion capsule that might one day return us to the moon (and looks an *awful* lot like an Apollo capsule!). There was also a collection of pop culture type items that made the most of America's love of the space race. Toys, games, knickknacks, and other various collectibles. This one, in particular, amused me to no end:

I've seen a lot of Wedgwood in my day, and it is always so.... classical. Seeing something both so modern and just so scientific presented this way really made me laugh (and if they didn't cost a fortune, I would own one of those in a heartbeat!). Opposite this case, on the other side of the building, was an Apollo simulator. The actual instrument panel had been removed and replaced with a flat drawing showing where each switch and knob and dial and readout was positioned, but the cool thing about it is that you could actually get inside. Here is a blurry DH trying to climb in, a shot of the two of them from the "hatch" (look at the grin on Luke's face!), and the panel inside.

Luke, needless to say, was having a blast! (Sorry it is scrunched up; the actual video is widescreen, but it is hard finding a free site that supports it that is not YouTube.) He really can count backwards from 10!

At the very end of the building, unbeknown to me, was a bunch of actual Apollo stuff, including a moon rock from Apollo 12. It is a sample from a larger rock and was about the size of a large baking potato.

I've seen moonrocks before, but I knew Luke never had. He wasn't overly impressed. I think the magnitude of what it took to get to the moon, particularly at that time in history and with the technology of the day, is just lost on him at this point. It was like "yeah, okay, its a rock from the moon, what's the big deal?" He's a little too young yet to truly understand that part of it. Plus, it doesn't seem foreign to him that humans have been there. Well of course they have, right? The rockets are really cool, though! LOL Ah well, whatever it takes to spark his interest.

This is the Apollo 16 capsule:

The hatch is simply fascinating. To me, it looks simultaneously advanced and medieval, almost steampunk, in a way.

They also had a lunar rover and a lunar lander.

You can see one of the space suits just to the right of Luke in the above photo. I assume they were real (I can't remember now), they just looked so small. I guess astronauts were not very large men? Or the suits expand some when pressurized? Taller than I am, certainly, but not hugely tall. I'd never thought much about it before. I did try to zoom in to get some of the details:

And I ended up with an unexpected bonus. The curve of the shield inside the helmet acted as a fisheye and gave me a much better shot of the inside of the building (and me taking the photo!) than I ever could have taken myself. The above photo was taken with the zoom lens full out, and the one below is cropped way down from the same photo, thus the noise in the photo. Still looks pretty nifty, though, if I do say so myself.

Next time, I'll bring a bigger zoom! Oh yes, there will be a next time. We had an absolute ball the entire day, and Luke is already asking to go back. I know the Star Wars exhibit that brought us there is not permanent, but they have other exhibits coming that definitely interest me. If we lived closer, I assure you we would have a membership. As it is, we'll treat it as the "overnight museum" and likely visit once or twice a year.

The center closes at 5, and it was actually 5:10 before we realized that the cleaning crew had come in to the other end of the building. Whoops! Guess they aren't super strict on closing time. I had noticed it getting darker, but I hadn't really been paying much attention. When I looked out the huge windows, it was *pouring* down rain. Not uncommon in the south, but it usually only lasts a few minutes, maybe 10-15 at most. Thirty minutes later, and it had not let up even a little bit. If anything, it was raining harder. There were probably 30 people huddled in the front part of the center, hoping for a break. Had the gift shop still been open, I'm sure several of us would have gladly purchased an obscenely overpriced umbrella! We finally just decided we couldn't wait anymore.

DH, who loves me dearly, ran all the way out and got the car. He pulled it up as close as he could, somewhere on the other side of the rocket (that's the base of the replica Saturn V), and Luke and I ran in stages to the car, using the rocket for cover at the midpoint. While we were standing under it getting ready for our "second run," there was a huge lightning strike followed almost immediately by thunder. I wish you could have heard the deafening roar that echoed beneath those engine bells. Scared the two of us to death!

By now, it was after 6 PM. It was also Central time, which meant that our tummies thought it was after 7 PM and were screaming "feed me NOW!" Normally, we try to find a nice local place to go, and we were leaving the next day before lunch, so this was our only chance. But, it was still pouring rain, we were now cold and soaking wet and starving, and after 20 minutes of not finding a place after 6 on a Friday night that didn't have a line out the door, we gave up and stopped at Pizza Hut. Luke was still very excited about what we had seen, not only about the Star Wars stuff, but about the rockets. I was thrilled that he had clearly enjoyed himself, but I wondered how much of it had really sunk in (besides rockets are really big and go really fast into space).

Apparently more than I thought. "Mommy, look at my moon rocket!" Awesome.

Currently feeling: stellar

1 comment:

  1. What a neat place, we'll have to remember that as a vacation spot if Joshua ever shows interest in space. Looks like you had a great time!


My apologies for not allowing comments from Anonymous users. I was getting way too much spam. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment!