Out of this world


I have loved the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., ever since I first visited there as a child. I haven’t been in 15 or 20 years – not since the biggest renovations in the facility’s history.

The center has one of the unused Saturn V boosters built for Apollo missions that never took place. It used to rest, on its side and separated into stages, on the grounds behind the original Space Center building (the building closest to me in the photo above). But weather and bird droppings took their toll, and so a fund-raising campaign was held to construct the Davidson Center for Space Exploration, the white building in the distance. The Saturn V was moved indoors, suspended from the ceiling and surrounded by exhibits, and the Davidson Center became the museum’s new main entrance and the home of its primary indoor exhibits.


The original building now houses secondary exhibits as well as traveling or temporary exhibits. (Currently, there’s an exhibit on mastodons and mammoths.)

The Saturn V you see standing between the two buildings above is a full-size replica, and it’s also been put there since my last official visit. I still remember the Saturn 1B behind the center (still there, but not visible in this photo) as the tallest thing on the campus, the landmark you strained to catch a glimpse of as you approached. But of course the Saturn V is quite a bit taller.

Anyway, Billy Hix – with whom I attend church – is an instructor at Motlow College but is also an expert on space education, working with organizations like NASA and the Space Foundation to train teachers in space-related educational activities and curriculum. As a result of a new appointment as a teaching consultant with the Space Foundation, Billy recently got to attend a training session with Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the rock star of science popularization.

During the summer, Billy leads some week-long STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) camps, using his personality and creatively-designed experiments and activities to help turn kids on to science. On one day during each camp, he takes the kids to the Space Center.

DSC_6222This year, two of his camps are here in Shelbyville, and he e-mailed me the other day to say that he had an extra Space Center ticket, and would I be interested in coming along, to cover the field trip for the newspaper?

That was a pretty easy question to answer. Of course I was interested! Fortunately, I got the green light from my boss at the paper.

It was a great trip. They’ve done a wonderful job with the Davidson Center. I had to remind myself that I was there on business, and keep taking photos of the kids with Billy, but I still had plenty of chances to revert to the gee-whiz space-age kid who first visited Huntsville back in the 1970s. We toured the Davidson Center as a group, and I got to see some of the exhibits in the old bunker building during a free time period right after lunch. We also saw an IMAX film about space junk.

All in all, a wonderful day. I’ll have a great online photo gallery and a photo feature for the newspaper.