Space center offers first hand look at space race
A space center in Huntsville, Alabama, which played a unique role in the US mission to the Moon, still boasts an extraordinary collection of hardware and offers its visitors a unique look at the space race today.
Huntsville, Alabama, located in the deep south of the US, is a city dedicated entirely to the space race.
“This was the beginning of our man spaceflight program,” said historian and author Ed Buckbee, referring to Hunstville’s role in the beginning of the space race.
Hunstville is where one man’s special vision became reality.
“When I was seventeen years old, I had no doubt that man would land on the moon in my lifetime,” rocket scientist Wernher Von Braun, former member of the Nazi party turned pioneer of US space exploration, once said.
“He had always dreamed about space travel,” Buckbee recalled.
Asked about the way Americans perceived Von Braun, in light of his past, Buckbee says they could scarcely resist the temptation of the potential breakthrough that he promised.
“A rocket scientist. The gentleman who could take us into space,” Buckbee said, referring to Braun.
Meanwhile, Huntsville offered the perfect working environment for the research.
“We had more PhDs per square acre than you could find anywhere in the country, available land, willing work force,” said Buckbee.
Robert Schwinghammer, rocket scientist and engineer, recalls working on all types of rockets at the manufacturing and engineering departments. He lists Jupiter, Jupiter C, Saturn 1, Saturn 5, Apollo Soyuz, among others.
“We flew twelve astronauts to the moon in a spacecraft like this,” told Schwinghammer, who was Von Braun’s colleague and friend at the time.
At the height of the cold war, the real reason behind the space race was the sense of competition with the Soviet Union, Buckbee said.
“I really believe that the Soviet Union drove the US to the moon because there was a serious competition between the two countries.”
“We thought we were the technological wizards of the world, but then it turned out that here is somebody that already launched a satellite,” Schwinghammer said referring to the Soviet Union.
Here at the US space and rocket center in Huntsville the competition appears to still live on, alongside the legendary equipment and devices that one can see and actually experience.
“It is the only place in the country that you can see all these vehicles including the space shuttle,” Buckbee explained.
The center allows visitors a first hand look and feel of some of the devices, something that almost makes one think that all it takes to be an astronaut is a suit, a helmet and a frictionless environment.