Alabama's famous rockets need some help to stay on display


The rockets that put America in space and gave Huntsville its “Rocket City” nickname need some help.

To get it, the U.S. Space & Rocket Center launched a fund drive Monday to preserve its historic outdoor display of Army and NASA rockets, plus the Saturn V replica on I-565 and the Saturn 1-B at the Ardmore welcome center on I-65.

The goal is to raise $20 million before two big anniversaries ahead: the 50th anniversary of the manned moon landing in 2019 and the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center itself in 2020.

“Rarely is there a day that goes by that someone doesn’t come up and tell me about someone in their family who worked on the Saturn V or one of these other amazing objects,” space center Director and CEO Dr. Deborah Barnhart said today. “That human story is what is important here.”

Barnhart said the restoration, which began with the removal of the first outside rockets on Monday, “will create a once-in-a-generation opportunity for companies and individuals to commemorate these accomplishments by sponsoring these new areas.”

A rocket path

The new display will include a rocket path from the Saturn 1 to the Saturn V linking the center’s original building and the Davidson Center for Space Exploration.

“For the first time, the public, organizations and corporations will have the opportunity to name or sponsor individual artifacts, buildings, walkways, seating and green space (on the new rocket path),” she said.

Barnhart said the center expects 1 million visitors during the year-long celebration of the moon landing in 2019, “and we are preparing our center to receive them.”

The first step was a structural analysis of the outside rockets, some of which have been out in the elements behind the center since 1969. The Saturn V replica beside I-565 is structurally sound, Barnhart said, but it needs sealing and recoating. It will be the first to be preserved.

The first of the real rockets restored will be the Mercury-Redstone and the Jupiter C, Barnhart said. A Mercury-Redstone was used the first two manned spaceflights of NASA’s Mercury program in 1961, and a Jupiter-C was used to launch Explorer 1, America’s first satellite.

The Saturn 1 behind the center, identical to the first launch vehicles made just for exploring space, will also be restored if the money is raised, as will the Saturn 1B at Ardmore, which is the same kind of rocket used on the Apollo 7 mission and the three Skylab missions. A Jupiter rocket developed by the Army and identical to the rocket that launched American “monkeynauts” Able and Baker is also on the restoration list.

Also due for restoration are the Army Redstone, the first rocket built by Dr. Wernher von Braun’s team when it moved to Huntsville, and the Juno II, which launched America’s first lunar flyby.

The outdoor rockets have been checked “many times” for safety in the past, Barnhart said, and they have been resealed or given other treatment. This will be the first upgrade of their foundation supports, she said. To read more about the “Rocket Protector” program and to contribute, click here. 



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