Saturday, January 12, 2013

US Space & Rocket Center and Russell Cave National Monument, Alabama

On December 27th, my father-in-law and brother-in-law went to Huntsville, Alabama, to see the US Space & Rocket Center.  On the way back to Chattanooga, we also visited Russell Cave National Monument, almost on the Tennessee state line.

"Welcome to Alabama - come get your guns and fireworks."

I have yet to travel through Alabama outside of winter, so even this bit of orange was a change in the monotonous brown ubiquitous across the South this time of year.

Entering Huntsville, Alabama.

We arrive at the US Space and Rocket Center.

Even from the parking lot there's a lot to see, such as the Space Shuttle Pathfinder, a space shuttle test simulator.  

The grave of "Miss Baker," one of two squirrel monkeys sent into space and back (unlike Laika, who died in space).  Miss Baker and Able, her partner who died 4 days after returning, were known as "Monkeynauts."

My in-laws explore the grounds before entering.

A-12 Blackbird, a precursor to the more famous SR-71.  This is one of only 9 in existence.

This bad boy could go from LA to London in less than 4 hours.  

The Saturn V, the tallest, heaviest, and most powerful rocket ever brought to operational status.  It's 363 ft. tall and is visible from miles away.

A large part of the museum is devoted to the life of Wernher von Braun, who previously worked for Nazi Germany before he surrendered willingly to the Americans (for fear of the Soviets gaining his knowledge).  He had a prominent life in America until his death in 1977.  

Von Braun's younger brother, Magnus, rode what is believed to be this bicycle to surrender to the Americans (one such American seen in the middle of this photograph).

The first part of Von Braun's US career took place in New Mexico.

Von Braun's preserved office furniture.

A drone like the one used in Yemen and the Middle East.

Missile exhibit, featuring Patriot and Hellfire missiles (not pictured).

This was the capsule that the Monkeynauts traveled in in 1959.

A Saturn I rocket at right.

My father-in-law walks under the Saturn I.

Saturn I

The much larger Saturn V.

Saturn V

Entrance to where the Saturn V Dynamic Test Vehicle is kept.

Saturn V

The Saturn V Dynamic Test Vehicle (aka SA-500D), built by Von Braun.



Miss Baker's flight capsule.

Rocket engine




The Apollo 16 Command Module, nicknamed Casper, that visited the moon in 1972.

Apollo 12 moon rock (basalt, containing olivine, pyroxene, plagioclase, and spinel).

My brother-in-law and I went into one of the simulators.

UH-1 Iroquois, commonly known as "Huey," active during the Vietnam War.

The Pathfinder mounting.


After a couple of hours at the museum, we went nearby to Ruth's Chris for lunch.

Nice interior, unintentionally (?) rocket-like.

My burger was excellent (I'd have gotten steak except my father-in-law was paying... don't wanna be "that guy").

Halfway back to Chattanooga, right at the state line, we went to see Russell Cave National Monument... because it was there.

We had the park to ourselves (it's free, by the way).

Kennedy was also mentioned frequently in Huntsville.

The visitor center.

The boardwalk to the cave.

Water flowing out of (into?) the cave.

It was pretty chilly in Huntsville, and not exactly warm further north at Russell Cave.

The entrance to the cave.

While the cave itself extends for over a mile (and I believe they said possibly seven miles), the visitor's area is incredibly small... just a rock overhang.

What native life would have been like in the cave.

Looking out.

"Hey, I'm in 'Bama!"

Coming up - Memphis.  Stay tuned.

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