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Rocket Center launches $7.9M Rocket Park renovation

HUNTSVILLE — The U.S. Space & Rocket Center is “returning rockets to the Rocket City.”

The Rocket Center broke ground Thursday on a $7.9 million complete renovation and expansion of Rocket Park at the Space Center.

The idea for the project started when Fred Luddy, a Space Camp parent, noticed the rockets at Rocket Park were looking tired and worn out, “less than stellar,” exposed to 50 years of father time and unpredictable weather.

Luddy wrote a check on the spot to start refurbishment of the rockets and pledged a half-million dollars toward the multi-year restoration of the national treasures.

Rendering of the new Rocket Park (256 Today)

“This is a project a long time in the making,” said Dr. Kimberly Robinson, CEO and executive director for the Rocket Center. “We have the five Redstone family of rockets that played a key role in early space exploration, and they led to the development of the Saturn I rocket and eventually, the Saturn V, which took humanity to the moon for the first time.”

In 2008, after the Davidson Center for Space Exploration opened, the Saturn V was moved there, but the remaining five rockets have stood like sentries over Rocket Row for almost 50 years.

In 2018, they were removed to restore them. But the pandemic delayed the project.

“Now we are ready to re-erect these beautifully refurbished rockets,” said Robinson.

Over the next year, the area will be transformed into a parklike atmosphere for museum visitors, Space Camp, training, and the community.

The park will be landscaped to make a greener, more aesthetically pleasing space with an amphitheater for outdoor classes. The rest of the park will be a place where the community can hold events.

The most exciting aspect of the new park will be the Space Exploration Memorial, recognizing the people behind the massive achievement of space exploration here in Huntsville.

It has been calculated that 98,000 people were a part of the early NASA program and the Space Exploration Memorial will honor them all.

“The Memorial will celebrate the people who put us on the map, the employees of Marshall Space Flight Center, and the many contractors who supported NASA’s work for decades,” Robinson said.

Robinson said the park will not only reflect the past but also the future.

“We are proudly displaying a key section of the Space Launch System’s core-stage Pathfinder … and was used at Kennedy Space Center and other centers to practice handling the actual flight vehicle.”

Dr. Kimberly Robinson, CEO of U.S. Space & Rocket Center (256 Today)

U.S.Rep. Dale Strong said the success of the Space & Rocket Center is a true testament to the city and what it stands for.

“I hope when you walk around this campus you see that getting to and staying in space takes more than just rocket science,” Strong (R-Huntsville) said. “The work being done here in Huntsville is a testament to our nation’s greatness and commitment to leading the world in space exploration.

“I look forward to coming back and seeing what you have accomplished, and I have no doubt they will continue to inspire the next generation and help everyone see the beauty and benefits that space has to offer.”

Madison County Commission Chairman Mac McCutcheon shared his experiences as a young boy.

“We had a family farm about six miles from here and they were building the rocket systems here at Redstone Arsenal,” he said. “I remember standing in a cotton field as a little kid with my grandfather and hearing them test the rockets. It would literally shake the ground even from that far away.

“So, when we put money into a project like this and come together as partners to share Huntsville’s history and imagine the future, its very emotional for me.”

Congressman Dale Strong (256 Today)

Dr. Rick Chappell, president of the Marshall Retirees Association, quoted President John Kennedy.

“We go to the moon not because it’s easy, but because it is hard,” and he believed it would draw out the best abilities and talents of Americans that eventually came to Huntsville.

“It’s the spirit of Huntsville,” Chappell said. “We rise with our dreams. There’s nothing we can’t do, we just have to figure out how to do it. That’s the attitude here in North Alabama.”

Robinson concluded the ceremony.

“Huntsville is special,” she said. “We have a legacy like no other, that we are proud of and rally behind. And other people are envious of us. People in Houston tell me over and over – ‘Wow, we wish we had Houston behind us like you have Huntsville behind you!’

“And it’s true.”

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