Do you think you have what it takes to man the first human mission to Mars? According to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center (USSRC) in Huntsville Alabama, my son and I have exactly what it takes! We’ve made a habit of venturing to the museum every Saturday for the last four weeks. It’s a fantastic way to bond and learn about everything to do with astronomy. Whether you’re a big aviation nut or deep space enthusiast, the USSRC is filled with hands on adventure. Now, I’m sure a lot of you are wondering why in the heck I have fallen so in love with the Rocket Center Museum. That’s a fair question that requires a bit of explaining.
You see, I’ve been obsessed with the stars since I can remember. During the summers, my father and I would escape into the wilderness, hike through rugged terrain, and end the evening on the highest peak we could find. My father was always working at the mill, so these small bits of time always meant a lot. We would spend the entire night star gazing. Tracing constellations and deciphering the astrological stories of the past. To me, I felt like Icarus, learning to fly through the power of a telescope and compass. I can remember those nights and the wet Alabama air perfectly. It was a few years after that that my father passed away. I don’t like to talk about that part too much, but his legacy of exploration and inquisitiveness lit a fire in me.
I often like to joke that I hold the unofficial world record for most Alabama museums attended. Out of all of them, the U.S. Space & Rocket Center just might be my favorite. Its array of scientific experiences is mind blowing. Now that my son is a bit older, it’s the perfect opportunity to impart my father’s love of astronomy to the next generation. A bit of family tradition that lives on. Of course, convincing my son to go to the museum was a whole other bag of worms. It was tough enough to drag him away from his phone, but to convince him that going on an underwater walking expedition was going to be life changing, that was a challenge all its own. After a bit of bargaining, we set off for the day.
Let me tell you, the Sea TREK Helmet Diving tour is an absolute blast. At the outset, you put on a specialized diving helmet that allows for you to breathe normally and stay dry under water. You then spend the next good while learning about diving techniques and astronomy training as you’re led on a walking expedition. That thirty minutes truly did change my son’s life. He came out of the tank jumping up and down, repeating every little fact he had been told. I could not get him to calm down for the life of me. That’s not where the day ended though. We ran all over the museum, taking part in the family aviation and astronaut training. We even tried out the DIVR Plus Virtual Reality Snorkeling experience where you get into the Underwater Astronaut Trainer while wearing a waterproof VR headset. Needless to say, it was a jam-packed day full of incredible bonding moments. I’ll never forget as my son’s face as he was flying through the astronaut training procedures. It was the biggest grin I’d ever seen, spreading from ear to ear. That must have been what my dad saw on those late nights all those years ago.
Since that original trip, we have gone to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center every Saturday for a month. I had a buddy fly up from Wisconsin who’s does interior painting to join us on our last adventure. He was visiting from out of town and my son was so excited to teach him about the solar system. At this point, my son and I have done every experience a couple times over. I’ll tell you, we haven’t gotten anywhere near bored. There are always new things to learn on the Shuttle Experience, Flight Simulator, and Apollo 11 VR. The crew is always willing to answer our random questions, giving great insights into the future of space travel. At this point, I’m starting to feel pretty confident my son may just fly to Mars when the time comes.
Before you take off, I want to impart a few pro tips when it comes to spending a day at the museum. There is a ton to do, but taking it slow will give you the best experience. Plan to do a couple of the available simulations or trainings, but give yourself ample time to walk around and explore. Make sure you do a bit of planning in advance though, as tickets can sell out days or even weeks in advance. Especially for the more popular exhibits. Tickets are available for purchase on the website. Finally, there is quite a bit of museum parking and street parking nearby. Though on weekends it can sometimes get pretty crowded, so don’t plan to arrive too close to any of the scheduled events. Anyways, that about does it, thanks for reading and I’ll see you next time.