Saturday, 3 January 2015

DAY 24 - Rocketing Across To Huntsville

Hi ya'll, here's the Blog for Day 24.

Today we travelled west from Atlanta, Georgia to Huntsville, Alabama, a distance of 224 miles / 361 km and around three-and-a-half hours of driving. The drive took us north to Chattanooga, but I didn't see no Chattanooga Cats anywhere. It also entailed driving from Georgia into Tennessee, back into Georgia, back up to Tennessee before moving southwards into Alabama. Thankfully this isn't Europe before the establishment of the EEC or our passports would be worn out. Plugging the address for our  destination was interesting (and apt) 'one Tranquility Base, Huntsville'.

We stopped at Jasper, Tennessee for some fuel at a very interesting location. Call me crazy, but surely a service station that specialises in selling fireworks, can't be a good idea, and when I say selling fireworks, there were literally hundreds of thousands of fireworks up for sale throughout the shop. Luckily, there are a few 'No Smoking' signs strategically placed to mitigate any risk of annihilation.

If Big Daddy's ever had a fire, there would be a 50 mile exclusion zone

An adjacent bridge across Nickaback Lake

A little further down the road

Finally, welcome to Alabama the Beautiful
We arrived in Huntsville at around 1010 h after ensuring we moved our watches one hour back to Central USA Time.

The purpose of our visit to Huntsville was hinted at in Day 16's Blog and was specifically to visit the US Space and Rocket Centre Museum which contains (amongst a bunch of other stuff) the last of the three Saturn V rockets that we had yet to see (the first we saw was in 2009 at the Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral, Florida; the second was on Day 10 of this holiday at the Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas), and the Apollo 16 Command Module Capsule (we have seen Apollo 11, 14, 15 and 17 Capsules).

There we were standing at the rear of the enormous Saturn V Rocket

I never tire of those five F1 Engines poking out the bottom of the First Stage

Second Stage

Third Stage

Command Module and Escape Tower

Schuyler and the First Stage of the Saturn V

 Me and the First Stage of the Saturn V

Apollo 16 Command Module Capsule which contained John Young, Thomas Mattingly and Charlie Duke. Interestingly, John Young went on to be the Commander of the very first Space Shuttle launch

But the US Space and Rocket Centre Museum also has a Rocket park with a mixture of real and mock up, full-scale rockets including a mock-up Saturn V that stands upright on it's end, yes that's right all 363 feet pointing straight up. It's bloody impressive.

The Saturn V 1:1 scale mock-up

Note the size of the Plekkers in front (and they are closer to me than the Rocket by about  30 feet / 10 m)

Your's truly...

...and Schuyler

The long building in the background houses the 'real' Saturn V

The park also has a range of other rockets including; the Space Shuttle Pathfinder (and engineering testbed for the Space Shuttle program and used to test the Orbiter / External Tank mating); a Saturn 1; a Mercury Redstone; an Atlas and many more. However; (and it's a big however), the state of the displays that sit out in the rocket park is pretty poor with many of the exhibits decaying before our very eyes. I actually likened it to a Russian aviation museum where the exhibits sit forlorn and rusting away in a grass paddock. Inside, the buildings are also starting to show their age and the displays seem a little bit hotchpotch. I think my opinion may also have been swayed by the constant downpour leaving us all like drowned Rats and hampering our efforts to take photos in the Rocket Park.

A precursor wind-tunnel model to the final version of the Space Shuttle

Astronaut Jack Lousma's Space Suit. Jack was around during the Apollo days and was instrumental in the early testing of the Space Shuttle including taking part in the early glide tests

The family at the base of the Saturn 1

The Apollo Saturn 1 Rocket


An assortment of Rockets

Some crazy future Rover

A Titan Rocket

Scaling against the mighty F1 Engine

A CH-47 Chinook. Why? I don't know

Some of the Rocket Park

The Plekkers in a Chinook

Josh would call this a bridge, I call it a gangway to space and opportunity

A Lunar Rover test vehicle

This is the Lunar Module Simulator

The boys up to no good in the Command Capsule Trainer

The Space Shuttle Pathfinder sitting atop the External Tank (ET) and two Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) the engineering test-bed

Schuyler and I even went back for some night shots and had a hell of a time trying to keep the lenses and ourselves dry.

My night shot made difficult by terrible weather
There was also an interesting aircraft an A-12 Oxcart, which is a precursor to the very speedy SR-71 Blackbird Reconnaissance Aircraft. Here's some shots:

Lockheed Skunkworks beautiful A-12 Oxcart

Lockheed A-12

Lockheed A-12 looking menacing from the front

So overall, I was not overly impressed with the US Space and Rocket Centre Museum, with the exception of the 'real' and 'mock-up' Saturn Vs, the Apollo 16 Capsule (largely because I am a huge fan of Astronaut John Young) and a few other displays here and there. I was also impressed by one Docent in particular who had worked in Huntsville at the Marshall Space Centre back in the day and actually taught John Young how to drive the Lunar Rover which he did on his Apollo 16 mission in April 1972.

In the end, I am glad we came here, but tomorrow we leave to head first south-west, then north-west for an important meet-up that's been over 30 years in the making.

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