3IYT: From Huntsville to the Moon
The first steps by humans on another planetary body were taken by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on July, 20 1969. A day millions around the world sat in front of the television in amazement. An estimated 530 million people watched Armstrong's televised image and heard his voice describe the event as he took "...one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."
The Apollo 11 spacecraft which propelled this monumental achievement was launched from Cape Kennedy just four days prior on July 16, 1969. But none of this remarkable history would have been possible, had it not been for the work done in Huntsville, Alabama.
"It was the engineers that came over right after World War II from Germany who joined with a team of engineers here in Huntsville, with part of the Army ballistic missile agency,” explains Director of Communications for the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, Pat Ammons. “But that ended up splitting off and becoming part of NASA, and that is all taking part in Chattanooga's backyard. People might need to be reminded of the work that went on here to take America to the moon."
Wernher von Braun was a German-American aerospace engineer and space architect. He was the leading figure in the development of rocket technology in Germany and a pioneer of rocket technology and space science in the United States. During the final months that Dr. Von Braun and his team scientists were refining the giant Saturn V Rocket that sent Apollo astronauts to the moon, he was also preparing to launch another important project: a permanent exhibit to showcase the hardware of the space program.
The U.S. Army donated the land in Huntsville for this new museum, and the U.S. Space & Rocket Center opened its doors in 1970. It's at this museum that visitors can experience the mesmerizing view of a National Historic Landmark, an authentic Saturn V Rocket, one of only three in the world.
"Also we have the lunar lander that showcases the rover that was also developed here in Huntsville,” says Ammons. “We also have on display the Apollo 16 capsule that also went to the moon. I really encourage people to look in that tiny little capsule and imagine a three day trip to the moon with two of your best buds, crammed atop this 363 foot rocket that we're standing underneath. It's a mind-blowing thing."
Since its opening, nearly 17 million people have toured the center in Huntsville. Many of the more than 650,000 annual visitors are school students on field trips. They are, afterall, the future of space exploration.
"Our Space Camp program was also a brainchild of Wernher Von Braun,” says Ammons. “He said we need programs that get kids excited about space exploration, that helps them understand what kinds of things they need to do to help prepare them to prepare us for the future of building rockets, to not just take human being to the moon but further. I mean 12 people have walked on the moon but it took 400,000 people to get them there."