Our family loves to learn about the history of flying and space exploration. On my bucket list since I was a child is the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, better known as Space Camp. It’s a top destination for kids and adults alike!
The US Space and Rocket Center opened in 1970 after the Apollo 12 moon landing and has been the destination for space enthusiasts ever since. Located in Huntsville, Alabama, it is near the Marshall Space Flight Center and was the brainchild of well-known space pioneer, Dr. Wernher von Braun. It contains over a thousand artifacts from NASA’s Apollo and space shuttle campaigns and has been called one of the world’s largest space museums.
It became well-known as the location of Space Camp (particularly with the 1980s movie!) and this program is still well-regarded today.
You can visit the US Space and Rocket Center even without a spot at Space Camp although it will make your kids want to attend! We visited in the summer of 2021 on our two thousand mile road trip through the deep South, and our kids wanted to stay!
The museum is located in Huntsville, Alabama, a good halfway point on a drive from Nashville to Birmingham. The extensive collection of rockets, space craft, and other artifacts will keep you busy for hours!
Buy your tickets in advance here, especially if your children want to participate in any of the interactive experiences. It can get very crowded in the summer, especially with groups, so you don’t want to be disappointed!
The walkway into the museum is full of statues and placards about space so don’t miss them.
You’ll enter the first building of exhibits with lots of space suits, vehicles, and interactive exhibits to explore. My son loved all of the exhibits about the military and its items.
As you walk into the next building, don’t miss one of the museum’s best experiences – the multi-axis trainer. Anyone who’s seen the movie, Space Camp, remembers this trainer in a pivotal scene! My kids loved doing this, and my older son even got to go to the actual Space Camp trainer since he was too tall for the one in the museum! I wish I had gotten to do this when I was younger – I get vertigo too easily to attempt it now!
Directly across from the multi-axis trainer is a flight simulator. Both of my kids loved flying a “real” jet! There are lots of exhibits here as well as more interactive exhibits, including driving on Mars and an opportunity to participate in an underwater astronaut trainer. Very cool!
Head outside to view the Space Shuttle Park and to catch a glimpse of Space Camp. The dorms, called habitats, are so cool! (Edited in 2023 to add: My son spent a week at the Aviation Challenge Space Camp this summer and absolutely loved it! It was an amazing experience!)
Walk on the pathway to the impressive Saturn I rocket and explore the outside exhibits, including a simulated lunar crater and a G-Force simulator. There are a few rides for the brave!
After viewing the iconic Apollo rocket, enter the Saturn V Hall, the largest of the exhibition space. There is a massive Saturn V rocket that takes up the entire length of the hall!
There are many other exhibits to explore, including SkyLab, the Apollo 16 capsule and Apollo 12 lunar rock sample. There is also history included with the bicycle that brought Wernher von Braun to the US space program from Nazi Germany.
The museum also has movies and a planetarium to view along with a fantastic gift shop. A space enthusiast could spend a lot of time (and money!) here.
The US Space and Rocket Center in Alabama is a must-see for anyone interested in the history of space travel. It’ll inspire your children and may even encourage them to go into the aeronautic industry!
- Cost: $30/13+; $20/ages 5 – 12; free/children 4 and under
- Recommended: ages 10 and up
- Tour time: 2 -3 hours (more if you do the simulators)
- Gift shop located onsite at the entrance and online
- Transportation: The museum is accessible by car only and has plenty of parking. Huntsville’s airport is a fifteen minute drive from the museum. Nashville is a 2 hour drive, and Birmingham is a 1.5 hour drive away.
- Dining Options: There is a cafe onsite that is good. Bridgestreet Town Center is nearby with lots of restaurants.
- Nearby hotels: There is a Marriott on the space center’s property. I’ve also heard the Drury Hotel across the street is nice.
- Nearby attractions include: Marshall Space Flight Center (schedule a tour through the museum), Huntsville Botanical Garden, downtown Huntsville, the EarlyWorks Museums, and Monte Sano State Park (with its von Braun planetarium!)
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