The Apollo Education Experience Project

Happy 50th Anniversary, Apollo!

I wanted to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first Apollo moon landing in some meaningful way at some meaningful location. However, most of the events either cost an arm and a leg (such as the event at Kennedy Space Center in Florida) or involve significant travel (such as the restored Apollo Mission Control Center in Houston, Texas). So I decided to spend the anniversary at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

I had been to the Space and Rocket Center before, but it had been years, and many additions and updates have been made since then. The biggest addition (in every sense of the word) is the full-size replica of the Saturn V stack in the Rocket Garden. This really lets you appreciate the fact that the vehicle used to get to the moon was the height of a 36-story building! Can you imagine making a small skyscraper fly? It is so tall that it has to have flashing lights to prevent aircraft from colliding with it at night!

The vertical Saturn V replica at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama at sunset.
(Photo: The Apollo Education Experience Project)

The Space and Rocket Center has always had a genuine Saturn V on display. However, it had been displayed horizontally, and being outdoors for several decades had taken its toll. But that Saturn V (which was a test article used to see if it could withstand the intense vibrations of launch) has been restored, and is now on display inside a new building built for the purpose.

The restored Saturn V test vehicle in its new indoor home at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
(Photo: The Apollo Education Experience Project)

As you may expect, the building to house a complete Saturn V rocket is BIG! And as you may also expect, there is a lot of extra room inside, so there are many other exhibits that line the sides of the building – a mockup of Werner von Braun’s office, Mercury and Gemini capsules, several scale models, a Skylab replica, among others. One of interest to me was the Apollo Command Module training simulator. Although the original panels have been removed and replaced with some more suited to a display for kids, it’s still quite interesting. I hopped in there with one of the Open DSKY replicas destined for installation in the Project’s own CM replica.

One of the Project’s Open DSKY replicas alongside the control panel of the Apollo training simulator at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
(Photo: The Apollo Education Experience Project)

Of course, what is an Apollo exhibit without a real Apollo Command Module? The Space and Rocket Center happens to be the current home of the Apollo 16 Command Module “Casper”. I was photographing a number of details of the CM when one of the Center’s staff asked if I wanted him to photograph me with it. Well, of course! Since I had my Open DSKY with me, I took it out, powered it up, and selected V16N18 (“Monitor IMU gyro”) so it would be displaying a lot of rapidly-changing numbers. He knew the best places to stand and the best angles to photograph from, and he took a number of pics from all of them. Between the Open DSKY running and my wearing a shuttle-issue flight jacket, a crowd started gathering around, thinking this was some official part of the 50th anniversary event!

Me holding an Open DSKY standing alongside the Apollo 16 Command Module “Casper” at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
(Photo: The Apollo Education Experience Project)

The Huntsville Amateur Radio Club was also on site holding an event of their own. They had a number of different amateur rigs, including one with rotation and pitch of an antenna controlled by computer that could track satellites. They had a special event call sign, W4A, for the event, and anyone who made contact with their stations on any of the operating frequencies could qualify to receive a special Apollo 50th anniversary QSL card. I made contact with the 2-meter station on 145.330 MHz that afternoon, so I will be requesting my QSL card soon.

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