As a kid I was a real space geek, and followed everything about the space program that I could get my hands on. As part of our recent trip to Alabama and beyond, Kathy & I spent a day at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville and took the bus tour. It was a fascinating experience and brought back a lot of memories.
It would be possible to just tour the exhibits at the museum, but it was really special to take the narrated tour of the Marshall Space Flight Center grounds, with visits to several operating facilities. We visited a the Payload Operations Center, training center with mockups of some of the actual ISS modules that are used to recreate situations on earth to help the astronauts deal with problems or answer questions aboard the station.
The Payload Operations Integration Center is the “mission control” for all of the scientific activities that are happening on the space station. The folks at the various workstations monitor these operations remotely, as we learned the the majority of experiments happening on board are not actually handled by the astronauts themselves unless hands-on is required.
The Environmental Control & Life Support Systems facility deals with the systems required to sustain life aboard the station. A lot of the work done here deals with developing systems to maintain the environmental and sanitary needs of the crew aboard the ISS.
The entire day was great, but the highlight for me was the visit to the Davidson Center for Space Exploration, which is a huge building that houses an actual Saturn V rocket along with tons and tons of memorabilia from the early days of manned space exploration through the Apollo moon landings. One of the things I thought was really cool is that they employ retired scientists as docents, so it is not unusual to find yourself talking to one of the heros of the space program. In fact, I didn’t realize it at the time, but one of my photos is of Brooks Moore, who headed the Astrionics Laboratory and is actually in the black & white photo in the picture of the old computer hardware!
It was a great day and an excellent way to highlight our visit to Alabama!