Updated: Jan 7
I recently visited some friends who live in Huntsville, AL. Huntsville, as you may know, was the birthplace of the US rocket program and NASA, and saw the development of the Saturn V rocket that brought humans to the moon! The U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville is home to Space Camp and has a spectacular exhibit dedicated to US space efforts built around a rather remarkable centerpiece: the Saturn V dynamic test vehicle, a complete build of the Saturn V rocket.
Used for structural testing, the dynamic test vehicle was never launched, but is one of the first Saturn Vs ever built and the only one on display that was actually used for its intended purpose. Walking into the hanger, the first thing you see are the five F1 engines towering over you. It's difficult to capture the scale of this thing in pictures, but it is truly awe inspiring.
As you walk along the 100+ m length of the monstrous rocket, you can see each of the three stages separated. Stage two sports five J2 engines of its own, while stage three has one J2.
At the far end of the hanger is a full-scale replica of a lunar lander with rover. I never realized how big the lander was until I was standing next to the full scale model!
They also have the actual Apollo 16 command module displayed beautifully behind glass. It is so cool to stand this close to something that took astronauts to the moon!
Finally, the biggest moon rock I have ever seen! I was standing inches away from a piece of the moon!
It is mind boggling to contemplate the challenge of sending people to the moon and bringing them home safely. Standing in a room with so much of the technology that got us there and back was one of the coolest experiences of my life. I can't imagine the audacity that lead to deciding to pursue this goal, and the fact that we achieved it is a testament to the incredible skill and commitment of a significant part of the country. To paraphrase JFK's famous speech, "we choose to go to the moon, not because it is easy, but because it is hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills [...]"