**Special thanks to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center for hosting my family’s recent visit. All opinions and experiences are genuinely mine.**
During our most recent trip to Huntsville, we made visiting the U.S. Space and Rocket Center a top priority. Given my husband’s field of expertise and my son’s inclination to all things engineering, I suspected it would be a destination we would all enjoy and indeed I proved to be right about that.
If you grew up in the 80’s like I did, you probably heard about Space Camp. I remember receiving a full-color catalog in the mail that highlighted all of the activities included in the week-long experience. As one of those kids who loved the most dizzying, gravity-defying rides at the fair, you can bet I had my heart set on going to camp. Alas, it was not within the familial budget. I’d long since forgotten about my Space Camp dreams until we visited the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. That, you see, is where Space Camp takes place, along with Aviation Challenge Camp and Robotics Camp. Modern day kids have a whole slew of awesome camp experiences to choose from! But even if Space Camp is not ideal for your family’s circumstances, a visit to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center is definitely worthwhile.
Today I’m sharing a guide that will give you a brief overview of what to expect when you visit. Feel free to ask question in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.
Where is the U.S. Space and Rocket Center?
The U.S. Space and Rocket Center is located in Huntsville, Alabama, which is in the central part of the far northern region of the state.
If you happen to be visiting Nashville, Tennessee, you could drive to Huntsville in about two hours. From Atlanta, the drive is about 3.5 hours.
Does the U.S. Space and Rocket Center charge admission?
It does. As of July 2015, adults ages 13 and over are charged $20 for general admission, while children between the ages of 5 and 12 are charged $15. Kids under five can visit for free. There are several options for add-ons, including IMAX and National Geographic movies and a NASA Marshall Space Flight Bus Tour. There are also several opportunities to score a discount. I recommend visiting the admission information page for up to date information on current pricing as well as discount opportunities.
What is there to do and see at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center?
In short: a lot.
An affiliate of the Smithsonian, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center offers both permanent exhibits and galleries as well as featured exhibitions, special events and simulators. Outside, guests can check out Shuttle Park, where you can learn about the chronology of launch vehicles and walk underneath the world’s only fully-stacked Space Transportation System.
You’ll also want to stop at Rocket Plaza where you can see what John Glenn called “the finest rocket collection in the world”. It is also where future space explorers can ride several museum simulators (which look suspiciously like familiar carnival rides).
Next, make your way over to the Saturn V Hall where you will be left in awe as you marvel at the sheer size of one of only three Saturn V rockets in existence. The rocket, which is suspended from the ceiling, is ginormous. Within the same hall you can also experience several hands-on exhibits that showcase past, current and future aspects of space exploration.
Jayce, who was eight-years-old when we visited, perhaps most enjoyed the exhibits in this hall. He ran back and forth between them, checking in with us as we progressed at a somewhat slower pace, to share details about what he learned.
He wanted to catch an IMAX or National Geographic movie but it didn’t fit in to our schedule for the day so we had to skip it. I’m sure it would be a great addition to the tour, though.
While all of the permanent exhibits were fun to explore, the featured exhibition was equally entertaining. When we were there, the Robot Zoo was on display. We saw giant robotic animals including a platypus and giant squid. There were tons of options for hands-on activities within the exhibition, too. Jayce’s favorite was a game in which we pumped a robotic mechanism in order to race our animatronics to the finish line. I’m sure the fact that he won every time had nothing to do with it being his favorite, ahem.
Who should visit?
Infants and toddlers will not be entertained by the exhibits. There is slightly more for preschool age children to do. I do think that school-age children from about five to twelve will be most interested, especially math and science kids with an interest in aerospace, aviation and robotics. Adults, too, will appreciate the exhibits and historical significance of space vehicles on display.
How long should one plan to spend at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center?
We spent a little over four hours there and felt that we had ample time to explore the exhibits. As I noted earlier, though, we did not plan in time to see a movie. If you intend to do so, you should allow extra time for that. If you have the time, you could easily make a whole day of letting the kids fully explore every nook and cranny.
Is food and drink available for purchase on the premises?
Indeed there is. The Mars Grill features typical quick-service meal options.
Do you have any other touring tips?
Because several of the exhibits and simulators are located outside, I’d recommend bringing a hat and wearing sunscreen. You’d also be best prepared if you brought along a water bottle. Because the Mars Climbing Wall requires close-toed shoes, be sure to dress appropriately, lest your little ones in flip flops will be disappointed like mine was.
I hope you enjoyed your virtual tour of the Space & Rocket Center. It’s definitely worth checking out next time you find yourself traveling in the southeast!