When you live anywhere for a long time, you often times tend to think you know all there is to know about a place. When you have just moved to a new city, you may have no idea where to begin learning more about your new home. We Are Huntsville is here to help!
Our Launching Local feature, hopes to act as a “booster” to your Rocket City knowledge and “ignite” your passion for all things Huntsville.
In this installment, we chat with Patricia Ammons, Senior Director of Communications at U.S. Space & Rocket Center. In an effort to give you, the best possible inside scoop, Ms. Ammons polled some of her co-workers and, spilled the following Rocket Center tea:
As the (Senior Director of Communications or other), what are the 5 tiny tidbits or extraordinary exhibits you would tell anyone they should absolutely not miss if they only had a limited time at the Rocket Center?
- Dr. Wernher Von Braun’s notebook with a drawing he made at the age of 15 is so cool. You can see his genius mind at work as he thought of what an astronaut would need to survive in space. That was in 1927!
- The Mercury procedures trainer shows what a tiny capsule the Mercury astronauts used to make the first American forays into space. It’s crazy small!
- The Mobile Quarantine Facility makes me think about the extraordinary bravery of the Apollo astronauts. They were going where no one had gone before, truly, and didn’t know what they could encounter while there. Just imagine a trip to the moon and all that would entail and then having to stay in an Airstream trailer for three weeks to make sure you weren’t bringing anything strange back to Earth.
- I love the Apollo 11 astronauts’ hand molds that were used to make gloves that fit only their hands. You can see every line in Neil Armstrong’s, Buzz Aldrin’s and Michael Collins’ hands and that is a great reminder that these were real people embarking on an amazing journey. Fun fact: You can see the wedding band on the Michael Collins’ his set. He wore his wedding ring when making the mold, which meant he had to wear it with the gloves to ensure a proper fit. He was the only one to wear his wedding ring to the moon and back.
- The sleeping berth in the Science on Orbit exhibit shows just how limited the space is on the International Space Station and how much the astronauts sacrifice to live and work in space. That berth is their only private space, and it’s where they go to sleep, communicate with their families and have down time and it’s not much space.
What are 4 behind the scenes secrets or little known facts about Space Camp, Aviation Challenge… or the U.S. Space & Rocket Center?
- Visitors often get to meet real rocket engineers, members of our NASA Emeritus Docent corps, who share stories of their work on the programs we have on display. Just look for the people in the white lab coats with NASA on the back!
- The Underwater Astronaut Trainer (UAT) was designed as a replica of the Neutral Buoyancy Simulator at Marshall Space Flight Center. The cast of Apollo 13, including Tom Hanks, Gary Sinise and director Ron Howard, trained in the UAT to prepare for the movie. Astronauts including Payload Specialists Ron Parise, Sam Durrance and Byron Lichtenberg also did some of their training in the tank.
- We have a F-16 at our Aviation Challenge facility that is painted in the same color scheme as the Alabama Air National Guard’s 187th Fighter Wing’s 100th Fighter Squadron. This squadron is descended from the 100th Fighter Squadron of the “Redtails,” the famed Tuskegee Airmen. We dedicated the airplane in 2014 and had several of the original Airmen in attendance.
- At the Skylab exhibit includes a piece of debris from the oxygen tank that landed near Perth, Australia, along with basically Skylab. The Australian government fined the U.S. for littering.
Whether grandma and grandpa are bringing back road trip goodies or a Space Camp camper is lining their pockets with life-changing memories, what would you say are the 3 must-have souvenirs for any visitor?
- Astronaut ice cream – the No. 1 seller in the gift shop
- Luciana Vega, the 2018 American Girl™ Girl of the Year. In her storyline, Luciana goes to Space Camp.
- We have cool space socks.
I’ve heard great tales of yummy eats and “you just gotta try it” treats at the Rocket Center. What would be the 2 things you think everyone must try at least once?
- Our popcorn at the National Geographic Theater and INTUITIVE® Planetarium is amazing.
- Dipping Dots, the unofficial food of Space Camp.
Honorable Mention: Star Tots star-shaped tater tots, the actual official food of Space Camp. (This mention received a hearty thumbs-up from my ex-Space Camp team member daughter.)
What is the number 1 thing Huntsville residents, and visitors alike, can do to support the U.S. Space & Rocket Center now and for years to come?
Our new Space Camp® Explorers Club, a program for sustaining donations. Donors get access to podcasts, blogs and other perks! https://rocketcenterfoundation.org/explorers-club/
I know I’ve certainly learned a thing or two about personal favorite and #1 tourist attraction in the state of Alabama, U.S. Space & Rocket Center. Here’s hoping that you did too!
Sixth-generation native Huntsvillian and lover of all things Rocket City, living in constant fear of personal geekery deficits and overall lack of geographical nerd-appropriateness, but valiantly fighting to stay abreast of the latest and perceived coolest assets in North Alabama in order to be allowed to stay at the smart people party. I sometimes travel to cool places, see fancy things and write words about them at Tour Dates Travel.