by S. Prasad Ganti
Huntsville, Alabama is known as the Rocket City. This is where the rocket scientist Wernher Von Braun worked on designing rockets to fly to the moon. At what is now named as Marshall Space Flight Center, named for the late Secretary of State George Marshall.
In the 1940s, Huntsville was selected as a location for chemical weapons manufacturing for the war effort, and the Army established the Redstone Arsenal. After World War II, the base became the rocket and missile facility where Wernher Von Braun guided the development of the Redstone, Jupiter, and Pershing missiles. And the rockets that sent the first U.S. satellite into orbit and the first astronauts to the moon.
Von Braun had the idea of creating a space center open for the public so that they can better appreciate what the rocket scientists do. The state of Alabama agreed with him and thus was born the US Rocket and Space center. I had the good fortune of visiting there recently. The pictures shown below have been taken using my iPad pro. The picture below shows the main building and the parking lot.
The picture below shows the Saturn V rocket which boosted the Apollo spacecraft towards the moon. The scale of the rocket is evident from the other objects in the background. It dwarfs everything else. The Saturn V rocket is also there in Kennedy Space Center in Florida and Johnson Space Center in Houston. But in Huntsville, it stands towering and is visible from neighboring roads and highways for miles.
The picture below is of the same Saturn V rocket lit up as it was getting dark. The dimmer spot of light slightly to the left of the upper tip of the rocket is the planet Saturn !. The main building has a cross section of the Saturn V laid end to end horizontally. And each section explained in detail.
Unlike Kennedy Space Center in Florida where the Spacecraft and rockets are assembled and launched, and in Johnson Space Center where astronaut training and mission control exists, in Huntsville, the rockets and spacecraft are designed and different components like the engines are tested. It is basically an engineering shop for rockets and spacecraft. Marshall Space Flight Center is where the work gets done while the US Rocket and Space Center is where the exhibits educate the visitors. They are just a few miles apart.
Given below is a picture of a mockup of the Artemis spacecraft which recently went to the moon and came back to the earth. While Apollo is the history of the space program, Artemis is the future. The Artemis was launched using SLS (Space Launch System) which is a recent version of Saturn V. SLS along with SpaceX’s Starship rocket represent the future heavy launch vehicles.
The picture given below is a mock up of the Russian module of the International Space Station called Zarya. Given the current geopolitical situation, it is difficult to imagine a Russian component being part of an international endeavor.
The US Rocket and Space Center also runs a space camp for anyone interested in getting a hang of how the astronauts are trained. Three day camps and week long camps are the most popular ones. I hope to attend one of these camps some day!