Huntsville Alabama – Home of Rocket Scientists and Wonderful Landscape

“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” – Neil Armstrong July 1969

Tranquility Base is the landing site on the moon where during July 1969 Apollo 11 crewmembers Neil Armstrong and Edwin (Buzz) Aldrin landed their lunar module named Eagle while Command Module Pilot Michael Collins remained in orbit waiting for their return. The three had launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, bolted on top of the now famous Saturn five rocket. Designed and assembled in Alabama pictured above as seen from near our campsite.

Michael Collins died yesterday 4/28/21. I read about it hours after posting this blog. I never remembered his name as being someone on the Apollo 11 mission. Now I’ll never forget it.

Mans journey to the moon would begin years before those famous words were uttered to the control room at Houston Texas. I’ll have to take you back to the end of World War II in this blog post and work forward to our visit in the Appalachians region of Huntsville Alabama. Don’t worry, I’ll come up with a way to pass along the info in a condensed version. As well as include some RV tips, in this case, Karen and I spending time apart touring places of interest.

So, here we are at 12:02 pm inside the fifth wheel at our current campground east of Nashville Tennessee. I’m sitting at the dinette table with a view of cedar trees and very close RV spots in the state park. Karen is taking a nap on the sofa about 10 feet behind me. The dog is stretched out on the floor next to the sofa. My workspace is lite by filtered daylight reflected through the windows as well as the sconce light fixture on the wall so I don’t wake them. I can hear the rain bouncing off the rubber RV roof. I’m looking forward to another visit from Karen’s brother Steve who moved to Nashville some 30 years or so ago from Michigan to begin his professional music career. I’m thinking – that man can play a guitar! Wish the campground was larger so we could sit out at our fire pit for music without disturbing all the old folks showing up for an overnight stay. Later today, around 2:00 or 3:00 another batch of campers will show up, rotating in for their quick visit to Nashville. We are heading out tonight for a meal with Steve’s friends at their nearby home. Got to get to the grocery store as we are bringing desert (eight types of cheesecake I hope). I’ve been exchanging quick text messages with my niece Bella who is an anthropology major. I’m interesting in locating the for sure oldest site of the first man to occupy the United States to see during our travels.

So there you have it, a ten second idea of living in an RV fulltime. As the rain is interfering with a nature trail hike, it’s a good time to write a blog post about our happy time at the US Space and Rocket Center RV Campground in Huntsville Alabama last week.

View from our front yard – US Space and Rocket Center Public Campground – 1 Tranquility Base Huntsville Alabama. Our backyard adjoins the perimeter of Redstone Arsenal which is an active military base first designated the home of army missile development and is to be the future location of US Space Command Headquarters. Redstone has an RV park reserved for military families. Unfortunately due to the virus thing we can’t visit Marshall Space Center on Redstone. The feds have not figured out this pandemic is about over and need to start opening up federally controlled visitors centers!

Site #17 with our 35′ fifth wheel and long-bed truck fitting in a space restricted to a 36′ trailer. We hung six feet off the back of the paved spot with plenty of room to spare. There is overflow parking had the truck not fit. $30 a night on full-hookups. Just outside Huntsville, a city of maybe 200K within rolling hills.

World War Two came to a close, with Allied Forces descending upon Germany from multiple directions. The United States was in a race to capture German rocket technology before the Russians. Fortunately German rocket scientist Wernher von Braun and co-workers decided to surrender to the US Army and together with their V-2 rocket and parts were quickly transported to the United States. Braun supposedly was interested in developing rockets for space exploration when the German military drafted him to develop weapons. German rockets would be exploding in Britain before the war ended.

In quick order, Braun and company were setup in Huntsville Alabama at Redstone Arsenal with the Army Ballistic Missile Agency where they built upon the V-2 rocket technology. The US Army developed weapons systems in Huntsville, to include ones later used to defend us against nuclear attack. Then President Kennedy announced we would put a man on the moon and the space race started with Russia. The entire country would have to come together to achieve the goal, with both civilian and military organizations working together. Contracts were handed out all across America to develop individual components and systems. Design and testing of the rockets would occur in Alabama. A series of rocket designs would be used leading up the the 36 story Saturn five which carried our guys to the moon.

This is the military facility in the 1960’s. Those towers would house rockets attached to missile bodies and test fired. All this is located somewhere behind the public US Space and Rocket Museum among the Alabama hills. The current facility is the largest employer in north Alabama and is setup with residential living areas.
This display is inside von Braun’s office. On the credenza are the missile models of interest beginning with the smallest V-2 to the largest Saturn five. I think it’s funny how a ceiling tile was removed to allow for the Saturn’s height.

The Saturn five is a super heavy-lift launch vehicle used by NASA between 1967 and 1973. It is 363 feet tall, 33 feet in diameter and weighs 6.2 to 6.5 million pounds when loaded with fuel. 363 feet is 36 stories! Simply stated, as they constructed new rockets they upsized the components for the larger rockets. They figured out a multi-staged rocket would be needed where parts broke away during flight. I spent most of a day combing through the museums well organized and plentiful displays. I have never visited a NASA site nor have seen any space age components, much less a rocket, from up close. I stayed, not wanting to miss anything, until my back and legs could take no further pain. For me, this was the most fascinating museum I have visited in years.

These scientists and our country created something from scratch that had never been done before (Elon Musk and SpaceX did not invent the wheel). Yes, the Russians beat us to space but we blew them out of the race when landing on the moon.

NASA had an employee who walks around the humongous museum answering questions. As is my habit I asked him what was the most fascinating item in the place. Of course he said that was in the eye of the beholder but for him the computer technology that was developed was a substantial accomplishment. They literally invented digital computing and there were displays showing the process. Do you remember the days when many new consumer products were created by NASA?

There are interactive displays to see to include guiding a lunar lander onto the surface of the moon, or experiences the blast of the rockets during launch . This was an interesting one. A magnifying glass you could move over a computer memory card. I swear you could see tiny pluses and minuses between the components.
The Apollo spacecrafts digital autopilot- flight guidance computer with only 4 KB of RAM and 72 KB of ROM, weighing in at 70 pounds.

Just how big was this museum. Well, you can hang a Saturn five rocket from the ceiling on its side and the museum would be slightly longer. Although a few sections of the rocket were actually missing which I’ll describe to be where the stages are hooked together. Artifacts along the museum walls takes one back to the beginning of the space race into the future to include skylab, the shuttle and its replacement program. I made my way back and fourth down the walls of the long and wide building several times finding lots of unique items and stories, especially when considering the process of building the systems to get to the moon. Enough that I took 145 photos.. You can see most of it within three to four hours unless you take in a movie at one of their large theaters. You will discover that outside the building are displays to include rockets and military vehicles. Along with a few rides for the kids (some shut down because of the virus), a space shuttle park with picnic tables, and the famous Space Camp with programs for adults and children. The restaurant was closed as well as what looked like the starting point for a bus tour into Redstone/Marshall Space Center base. There is a large hotel adjacent to the RV Park.

I’ll show the tour in photos. Please read on for Karen’s wonderful pictures taken at the Huntsville Botanical Gardens where she spent the day alone as I had done at the Space Museum.

I realize others might not be as excited about fuel cell technology. After climbing the stairs from the gift shop to the museum the first display was that of a fuel cell used in space exploration. I’ve been interested in them for years, thinking they will be used extensively as an alternative energy source. These cells use hydrogen (the H2 portion of H2O for example). The sun is basically a giant ball of hydrogen and helium per another display. The super-cooled gas can be condensed to a liquid. It can be used to power electrical systems through a fuel cell and launch rockets as it burns. Big mouth me suggested to a museum employee they change the display where they described the hydrogen filled Hindenburg zeppelin exploding in 1935. The paint on the airship allowed the fire to burn, not the hydrogen.
This is a gyroscope used in navigation. Its fascinating to look up close at all the tooling and thought that went into creating the technology. I envision scientists and mechanics thinking outside the box to come up with solutions for both real and imagined conditions in space. Then handbuilding the equipment and system to get the job done.
Labeled switching inside a space vehicle. Move a switch and hopefully a small engine will fire and move the aircraft.
The Russians sent a dog into space, it died. We sent two monkeys, one of which lived to the age of 27 at the Space Center and is buried on the grounds. The palm print was cute.
Seemed like a small thing – but it’s not. During design they literally took existing pieces of metal and tested them to find out which might meet the needs of space travel. Even the smallest material used was important enough to invent ways to test them on earth before sending a man to the moon.
I knew you would ask. To defecate they tape a bag to their behind and a pouch of germicide is used to kill bacteria. Leads me to believe they brought everything home with them.
Apollo 11 was the mission that landed on the moon. There are displays of space suits scattered around the museum. This display was cool. It’s moldings of the three astronaut’s hands, used to build their gloves. Neal Armstrong is on the left.
An actual moon rock. Between 1969 and 1972 six Apollo missions brought back 382 kilograms (842 pounds) of lunar rocks, core samples, pebbles, sand and dust from the lunar surface. Extra weight was left on the moon such as boots and a landing craft. The flag they planted after the first trip blew over when they launched from the moons surface. It might not be long before a space station is built on the moon. Maybe they can set the flag up as the location is marked by a device reflecting back to earth.
Skylab training area. The actual lab was occupied in space for 24 weeks. It would have been part of a rocket section such as the one used to house the lunar lander and command module.
This is the actual recovered Apollo 16 command module. The burn marks on the bottom from reentry to Earth’s atmosphere were interesting.

This next series of photos depicts the Saturn five rocket sections. The displays helped me understand what happened from the time the rocket left the earth through the stages of engine firings, parts coming apart and space vehicles navigating to rejoin components. It was said when the Saturn five launched in Florida they wondered if the power of its thrust sent the rocket up or pushed the state of Florida down.

Small model of the above full size rocket to give you an idea of the positioning of the contents, much of which are huge fuel storage tanks.
Again, a model of where components sat in the rocket to include the lunar landing craft.
I’m hoping you can zoom in to this diagram. This brings it all together showing the position of the rocket from launch, around the earth and then the slingshot to the moons orbit. Before landing they had to rejoin parts of the rockets cargo while in space.

Still under construction by a private company with government grants is the space shuttles replacement – The Dream Chaser vehicle that can be reused and land on runways around the country. I understand the design calls for each ship to be reused up to 15 times. Other companies, such as SpaceX won awards for other parts of the current space program. Earlier space missions could not have occurred, to include walking on the moon, without private industry help. Today NASA farms out even more of the work. We will land on Mars; they are flying around a remote helicopter there today. Financial investors think growth in space exploration will be increasing 10.6% a year in the near future. I’ll put my money that there will be a space station and human colony on the moon sooner than later.

North Korean government needs to have their eyes opened by walking through the space center to see our old tech from the 50’s. Really – do you think you stand a chance of ever launching a missile at us or our friends?

And can be flown remotely…

And finally a few views of the grounds outside the museum where there is much to see. Before leaving the subject, I’ll pass along if you are interested in learning first hand, adults can attend Space Camp! I had no idea and would have attended as we stayed 11 days at the RV park.

On another day Karen visited the Botanical Garden located down the road from the Space Center Museum. I stayed home and played with the dog.

When you live fulltime in an RV, don’t miss opportunities to spend time apart. It’s okay to do so for the relationship and each others sanity. This is hard for us to do because Karen does not drive the big truck and currently we don’t have a second vehicle. Thankfully we both don’t mind the other taking off with the dog to walk a trail or drift up to a visitors center at a state park. Or dropping Karen off to shop without rushing while I run a few errands elsewhere. For most of us, fulltime living in an RV will require you find a way to spend time alone in order to stay mentally healthy. Don’t miss an opportunity to do so. This might be the best advice I have received and given related to the lifestyle.

Springtime in AlabamaEnjoy the Show

4/28/21 – We are currently at Cedars of Lebanon State Park east of Nashville Tennessee. Preparing for a quick trip back to Kansas City Missouri before continuing northward during our summer travels.

4 thoughts on “Huntsville Alabama – Home of Rocket Scientists and Wonderful Landscape

  1. We visited the area about 2 years ago and really enjoyed seeing things we grew up watching on TV at the Space and Rocket Center. Our son works for United Launch Alliance and he got us a tour of their manufacturing facility as well. That was really cool, seeing future launch hardware close up. During the same trip we went to Cape Canaveral and saw one of ULAs Delta launches. So cool, I wish I could have seen a Shuttle launch back in the day.

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  2. This is great! We’ve been to Kennedy Space Center and Johnson Space Center. Huntsville is still on our list and this makes me want to get there even more. The campground sure looks convenient too. And space camp for adults? REALLY? Who knew??? We are definitely looking into that! LOL. Beautiful garden photos, too.

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    • Was just talking to the wife about your blog. We are back in our “home town” for two weeks due to old work commitment. Staying in a sticks and bricks rental for two weeks. Was telling Karen if we ever want a break from the road, we should consider renting one of sticks and bricks for at least three months. Currently our fifth wheel is in storage in Nashville while we drove into Kansas City. We stayed overnight at Grand Old RV in Nashville – which I read about on your blog 🙂

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  3. Pingback: Kentucky – Our 18th State to Visit | Our Future in an RV

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