After visiting the Ham Radio Festival two weeks ago, my father and I attended the 30 Year Celebration Festival at the US Space and Rocket Center.
I’ve been going to the Space and Rocket Center since I was a kid. I can remember racing my small plastic space shuttle on the asphalt outside the Space Center, grinding the little plastic wheels on the sidewalk to make the ignition sparks light up.
Living away from my hometown for years, and coming back without having really planned to, has changed my perspective on the city.
The Space Center was one of the many things I took for granted about living in Huntsville.
The Celebration at the Space Center was huge. There were tons of people everywhere. We had to park in a grassy field and ride a school bus to the Space Center, because the usual parking lot was completely full.
We picked up free Mission Badge stickers and listened to a band play songs from The Sound of Music as we wandered beneath the Saturn V rocket. Then we lined up and waited for the big deal – an astronaut autograph signing.
We’d been out and about since 9am, and we were getting a bit tired. But there was a whole separate building of the Space Center we hadn’t been in – a building with a traveling Dinosaur exhibit! So Dad settled into the theatre to watch a short film about the last space shuttle mission, and I walked over to the museum building in search of dinosaur awesomeness.
But the dinosaur exhibit was mainly an excuse for small-child friendly activities, like digging in a sand box to excavate fake dinosaur bones. I spent a minute staring at a cast of the T-Rex Sue, the mainstay of the exhibit, and then wandered down a hallway, hoping for some more grown up dinosaur fun.
Instead I walked into a hallway that somehow survived the museum’s recent overhaul. The Space and Rocket Center used to be packed full of archival goodness. Amazing objects from the space program. Things that filled you with awe and excitement and the desire to know more.
Doesn’t it just make you want to read up on the history of the space program? Or at least watch Apollo 13?
But I guess models of Space Lab and displays of spacesuits don’t bring in as much money as traveling exhibits. So all of these archival bits were whisked away, and the empty space filled with activities for the very, very young.
Except for one, small hallway, one I spent a lot of time in when I was younger, because it held the only Hugo Award I had ever seen in person.
The one that belonged to Wernher Von Braun.
Seeing his Hugo Award motivated me to keep writing when I was younger. It let me know that yes, there are other people out there who love these stories of space and science and strange things as much as you do.
My parents took me to so many kid-friendly museums when I was a child. We went to one nearly every time we took a family vacation.
I cannot remember any of them.
But I remember standing in front of the dinosaurs at the Smithsonian. I remember being awed and frightened by the wingspan of a pterodactyl.
And I remember wandering through the Space and Rocket Center, the models of people in Space Lab and the International Space Station sparking within me a burning desire to leave Earth and go into space.
How can we inspire the next generation of star voyagers if flimsy traveling sideshows push away the images, the excitement of discovery?