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Educational Huntsville

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Educational Huntsville
By Rochelle Caviness - July 29, 2002

What does the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, the Alabama Constitution Village, Earlyworks Children's Museum, Sci-Quest, and the following all have in common? They are but a few of the numerous hand-on, educational, and family friendly attractions that can be found in Huntsville, Alabama.

U.S. Space & Rocket Center

If you can only visit one attraction in Huntsville, I'd recommend that you visit the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. This is an official NASA Visitor Center that features an Aerospace museum offering a variety of static and hands-on educational/historic displays that chronicle the history of space flight. Scattered around the center you will find a variety of space equipment including a space shuttle mounted upon its external fuel tank and two solid rocket boosters. Here you'll also find Rocket Park where you can walk around, and under, various rockets. Among the variety of unique items you'll find at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center is a SR-71 Blackbird spy plane - ok, its not exactly 'space' related, but it's still awfully neat!

In addition to all the static exhibits that fill the museum, you'll also find a variety of hand-on opportunities at the center. These include a Apollo Cockpit Trainer that you can climb into. If you're claustrophobic, stay out as the cockpit is very small and it is hard to imagine how three men, all in space suites, could have ever fit into it - let alone fly a space ship from this cramped space. Thrill seekers have the opportunity to ride in a G Force Accelerator or to ride the Space Shot that shoots you 140 feet into the air! The Center also features an IMAX Theater and a motion-based simulator that takes you on a wild ride across the Martian landscape.

The U.S. Space & Rocket Center is an unforgettable experience. It can be a bit a noisy at time, in part due to the mix of noises produced by the visitors themselves, and the audio output from various displays including monitors playing historical film and TV footage. In addition, the lighting varies throughout the museum, which may cause some visually impaired visitors some minor difficulties, but nothing much. Guided tours of the museum and center are also available.

One word of warning. The U.S. Space & Rocket Center is also home of Space Camp and Aviation Challenge. Be prepared for a return journey to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in order to attend one, or both. Programs are available for both children and adults. As well, a parent - child program are also available.

If you were not a Spacenik before coming to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, I'll wager that you will be by the time you leave!!

SciVis - Space Camp for Interested Visually Impaired Students

In addition to regular space camp programs, the U.S. Space & Rocket Center also hosts special space camp programs, such as SciVis, the Space Camp for Interested Visually Impaired Students. This is a program that brings together blind and visually impaired students from around the world for a week of unbelievable adventure as they learn, among other things, how to fly the space shuttle or F-16 fighter jets, while at the same time learning about the history of the space exploration. The program that these children participate in is the same as the one that fully sighted children go through. The only difference is that the space camp itself is overhauled to make it accessible for visually impaired campers. These adaptations range from putting brailled overlays on various console panels, to providing flight plan checklists in braille or large print. This year, SciVis will be held September 21-26, 2002. SciVis Update: This year SciVis will be held September 18-23, 2004!


In addition to visiting the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, those interested in science, or just in having some fun, will also want to tour Sci-Quest, the North Alabama Science Center. This is a hands on science center that has more than 150 interactive exhibits. Sci-Quest is located near to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and both centers can be squeezed into a one day trip. However, I'd recommend that you devoted a full day to each in order to have the leisure to fully experience all the activities that both places have to offer.

Huntsville - Madison County Botanical Garden

If you have any free time left after visiting the U.S. Space & Rocket Center or Sci-Quest, you may want to round off your day with a relaxing visit to the Huntsville - Madison County Botanical Garden. This delightful, 112-acre garden is located next to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. It features a butterfly house, and bed after bed of flowers that will delight your senses. There are also speciality gardens scattered throughout the garden, such as an aquatic garden, a daylily garden with over 800 varieties of daylilies, and an demonstration vegetable garden. Even if you cannot see the flowers, you can enjoy their smell and the relaxing atmosphere that permeates the garden.

Alabama Constitution Village

The Alabama Constitution Village is a living history museum peopled with costumed 'villagers' and guides. It is also the location, where, in 1819, Alabama's first state constitution was written.

Earlyworks Children's Museum

The Earlyworks Children's Museum is the largest hand-on history museum in the South. The museum was designed expressly to teach children about Alabama's history. During its creation input was sought from teachers as to what they felt children needed to learn, as well as ideas on how to convey this knowledge to them in a fun manner.