When my brother-in-law moved to Huntsville, Alabama it only made sense to plan a family road trip to this yet-to-have-visited city. Although we’re familiar with NASA and the agency’s efforts around space exploration, I had no real understanding that Huntsville, Alabama was there from the beginning.
Just because no one in my family has a desire to become an astronaut, that doesn’t mean we aren’t fascinated by space and space exploration. How can you not be? Knowing Huntsville’s history is steeped in space we had to make a visit to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. Spread over two building plus historic artifacts outside, it’s easy to spend a whole day at this hands-on space center. We shared some of the hands-on exhibits the kids will love in this video:
Apache Simulator – Forget video games, this simulator, a re-outfitted Apache AH-6$D Longbow helicopter, gives you a chance to control a turret as a gunner or maneuver around tight spots as a pilot.
ISS: Science on Orbit – This area is designed to give visitors a sense of what it is like to work and live in space. Guides are available at set times to take you through the exhibit and as we missed our shot we didn’t get to see this section (though we did see the underwater tank were astronaut’s train.
Math Exploration Activities – I actually discovered this when returning home. The kids loved the Saturn V Hall and the interactive exhibits (we talked about this area a little in our video). If you have math crazy kids like two of mine, you might want to bring copies of these math guides for the kids to explore, experiment and calculate.
Marshall Space Flight Center Bus Tour – There is an extra cost for this tour (and you have to be an American citizen which we are not) but touring the facilities would be amazing. I know we loved visiting the historic launch sites at the Kennedy Space Center.
Along with the hands-on exhibits and movies, you can learn from the experts themselves through the NASA Emeritus Docent program (current or retired NASA employees or contractors). Nothing beats hearing first hand stories.
If being surprised by Huntsville’s space history wasn’t enough, I discovered the city has a strong arts community too. There’s the SPACES Sculpture Trail (which I hope to see when I’m back in May for TBEX) and the annual Monte Sano Art Festival in the fall. There’s also the Lowe Mill Arts & Entertainment space. This art community, housed in a refurbished mill (as if that wasn’t reason enough to love the place), brings to together creators and those with an interest in art.
We discovered amazing handmade popsicles from Suzy’s Pops, purchased calendar prints from Green Pea Press, and even found some great vinyl at the amazing Veritcal House Records. Shopping through the various Flying Monkey vendors was a real treat too. You could observe artists practicing their craft, many of whom invited you in to talk and ask questions. You could shop. You could eat. Plus scattered throughout the various floors were public art exhibits to just enjoy.
I really loved Lowe Mill and feel we didn’t cover half of the greatness this art community has to offer.
So if Huntsville, Alabama is just a name on the map for you, hopefully their space history and art future are enough to entice you to make a detour and stop in for a visit. Family aside, I’m looking forward to a return visit and discover what other secrets this city holds.