Friday, March 18, 2011
Spring break in the Peach State is nine days of excitement spent on the beaches of Georgia's scenic coastline or attending golf's number one tournament in Augusta, the Masters.
The same drive time from Atlanta will also allow for an overnight trip to neighboring Alabama's top attraction, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville.
Nicknamed Rocket City, USA, Huntsville is home to the massive space center which lies about four hours west from the north Georgia region.
Home to the popular U.S. Space Camp, this north Alabama space attraction has a large array of both child and adult friendly activities and rocket-styled rides.
Over the past year, the Davidson Center for Space Exploration museum has under gone a sweeping upgrade in it's look and feel as you walk past the historic memorabilia. New artifacts have been added such as an actual moon rock which was brought back aboard Apollo 12, America's second lunar landing.
The command module Casper which orbited the moon for several days during the Apollo 16 mission in 1972 is on display surrounded by a space suit, and an Apollo guidance computer built in 1968 which had the memory of just 72 kilobytes.
A full size lunar lander spacecraft is also on display along with a moon buggy at it's side.
Running horizontal across the length of Davidson is an actual Saturn 5 moon rocket which would have launched on one of the three canceled Apollo flights in 1973. Step up close and view the entire rocket stage by stage. The rocket's five main engines greet you as you walk into this beautifully laid out 21st century museum.
Outdoors is breath taking in it's own right as you step outside the Davidson Center.
Get vertical and soar 140-feet straight up in two seconds with the towering Space Shot ride; or take a spin in the comfortable G-Force trainer and experience three times your body's weight for several minutes just as the real astronauts feel during launch and landing.
The space center is home to two IMAX theaters, and a grand rock climbing wall spanning nearly 25-feet high with enough width to support eight climbers.
Based on the Martian Olympus Mons, the highest volcano in our solar system, boys and girls will enjoy the rock climbing wall so much they will likely go back two and three times. Adults will find the exercise-driven wall as a great physical and mental challenge as they scale the Mars' themed exhibit.
The wall sits next to an incredible futuristic ride known as the Mars Mission Simulator. Take a realistic ride over the landscape of the Red Planet and then below it's surface as you pitch up and down and yaw left and right on a roller coaster of excitement.
The center's main IMAX theater is unlike most theaters with it's 180-degree field of view. This space reporter agrees with the staff, the seats in the top half give your eyes the sense of being there. The IMAX movie now showing is Hubble, which looks at the history and repair missions of the famous space telescope, including interviews and behind the scenes video from the crew of the space shuttle Atlantis' 2009 flight.
Playing in a second theater in the Davidson Center's upper level is the IMAX prehistoric science movie Sea Rex 3D, in which one woman learns about a rare undersea mammal very similar to the T-Rex.
The space and rocket center is located near the secured gates of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, home to the early days of American rocketry and the creation of the 363-foot tall Saturn 5 moon rocket in the 1960's.
Today, Marshall is home to America's space science control center for the International Space Station. Each day, astronauts orbiting 225 miles above earth talk with controllers at Marshall about select science experiments being worked on in microgravity.
At the space and rocket center, several space station related exhibits can be found, including a mock up of the station's Destiny laboratory.
This year will mark the thirtieth anniversary of the first space shuttle flight, and will also witness the final two flights of a space shuttle. What better way to mark the occasions than an up close visit to the only complete full scale space shuttle mock up.
Known as Pathfinder, this mock up of a real shuttle orbiter rests a top an external fuel tank and twin solid rocket boosters. Visitors are able to walk underneath and around the complete space shuttle stack.
Built at Marshall in 1977, the Pathfinder was constructed as a test model to check how future orbiters would be hoisted up for mating to it's rust colored external tank.
Moving across the center's grounds is a rocket garden featuring several of the converted missiles and rockets which carried America's first astronauts into space and on to the moon.
The majestic space center's skyline includes the only vertical full scale Saturn 5 mock-up.
A Saturn 1B rocket used to ferry crews to the Skylab space station stands towering the smaller rockets, including America's first rocket used to journey Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom into space fifty years ago, the Mercury-Redstone.
The Space & Rocket Center is open seven days a week, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. central time. The center is closed on Christmas Eve and Day and New Years Eve and Day.
Ticket prices very upon age and attractions, such as the museum and the IMAX theater. Click here to view the center's current pricing.
Looking ahead to this summer, make plans for you and your child to attend the hottest overnight camping trip on and off the planet -- Space Camp.
Children ages 9 and above can attend Space Camp for two days or up to a week, and can even bring an adult for some of the camp programs they support.
The camp features tours of the space and rocket center, including the rides and rock wall; unique science experiments with camp councilors, and your own bunk bed and locker in the futuristic habitat module.
One councilor this aerospace reporter spoke with explained how in awe he is as the young children leave Space Camp with a better understanding of not just the rockets but the science they learn in just a short time.
"I find it so inspirational to see the young boys and girls we teach leave here with an excitement not just for space flight, but the science here on earth and out there in space," Roger St. Louis, a retired school teacher, stated as we stood underneath Pathfinder.
Mr. St. Louis discussed how important it is in today's age to get the youngster interested in learning, and "what better way than the fun approach we have here at Space Camp".
Select Scout troops across Georgia can enjoy a special weekend at the camp each year, which acts as a stepping stone to inspire the youth to want to come back for the longer stays.
Mark your calendar today and make a point to spend a few days in Huntsville with your child as the space center continues the celebration Marshall's golden anniversary.
Officially dedicated in July 1960, Marshall Space Flight Center grew following President Kennedy's 1961 challenge to land a man on the moon before 1970.
As the day turned to night and the stars shown brightly over Pathfinder, one can image what it would be like to sail upon the ocean of space as you look up at the orbiter with a star laden night sky.