For years now, Huntsville has been known as a trailblazer of the American journey through space. We’ve been called The Rocket City, and even the Space Capital of the Universe. Many of us drive by the towering Saturn V during our daily commute. Our city’s culture is ingrained with the history and experience of Science and Engineering through rocketry, and the literal rocket scientists who built them.
To celebrate this rich tapestry of Huntsville as The Rocket City, Geek Out Huntsville is launching our newest t-shirt design, featuring the origin story of our contributions to space exploration in a patriotic format. These shirts are available starting today, exclusively at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center gift shop.
The design of the shirt commemorates each rocket that holds special significance for the city of Huntsville, which has been an integral part to the journey of NASA over the years. As you proudly adorn your torso with both your Geek and Huntsville pride, we hope to educate you on what each rocket in the design represents.
The first rocket on the far left of the design is the Mercury-Redstone rocket. Based on a modified version of the original Redstone missile, it was designed for NASA’s Project Mercury and bore Alan Shepard aboard Freedom 7 into space in May of 1961.
The original Redstones were among some of the first rockets that Dr. Wernher von Braun assisted in overseeing at Redstone Arsenal in the early 1960’s. After a few initial setbacks in late 1960, von Braun and his team cautiously proceeded with development until the kinks had been worked out, allowing for the first successful tests in early 1961. Alan Shepard would then become the first American in space that May, with local high school namesake Gus Grissom following in July.
Where to find it: One of the original Mercury-Redstones currently sits in Rocket Park in the backyard of the Space and Rocket Center, as well as a capsule simulator that illustrates the cramped conditions experienced by Shepard and Grissom on their flights.
Titan II GLV
The second from the left on the t-shirt is the Titan II GLV (Gemini Launch Vehicle). From 1964 to 1966, it was used for twelve Gemini missions that were designed to test extended space flights, space vehicle docking, as well as Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA) spacewalks outside a vehicle.
Pursuing these objectives developed space travel techniques that would lay the groundwork to support Apollo’s mission to land astronauts on the Moon. Some of the astronauts that later would step foot on the Moon, such as Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Pete Conrad, flew atop a Titan II during their Gemini missions. The name Gemini is derived from the Latin expression which meant “twins,” or “double,” a reference to the fact that the spacecraft could hold two astronauts during flight. Gemini 3 was the first manned flight, carrying both Grissom and John Young through three low Earth orbits in March of 1965.
Third on the t-shirt is the Saturn 1B, a launch vehicle used by NASA from 1966 to 1977. It improved upon the original Saturn designs by adding a powerful S-IVB second stage rocket. This allowed for the launch of an Apollo Command Service Module (CSM) or a Lunar Module (LM) into low Earth orbit for test flights before the Saturn V was ready. The Saturn 1B would be used for Apollo testing starting in 1966, and would still be used nearly a decade later for Skylab missions. The last Saturn 1B launch would be with the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975.
The Instrument Unit that contained the Guidance System and Launch Vehicle Digital Computer (LVDC) was designed by IBM in Huntsville. This ring of electronics was located in the assembly just above the S-IVB stage and controlled the entire rocket from liftoff until battery depletion.
Where to find it: A similar Instrument Unit can currently be seen at the Space and Rocket Center in the Davidson Center alongside the Saturn V.
A Saturn 1B is also famously seen in the skyline of the rural area along the state line next to I-65 at the Alabama Welcome Center. It was donated in 1979 and welcomes visitors to Alabama by standing 168 feet in the air.
Arguably the most famous rocket of them all is the next on our t-shirt design. Seen for miles throughout Madison County, the 363’ tall Saturn V rockets designed under the direction of von Braun sent a total of 24 astronauts to the Moon during the Apollo program’s history from 1968 to 1972, and, as of 2016, remain the tallest, heaviest, and most powerful rockets ever brought to operational status.
Designed at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, the Saturn V would become the complete unit of three stages that would send astronauts beyond Earth orbit on the way to the Moon during the Apollo program. The successful development and collaboration would ensure that President Kennedy’s national goal of landing on the moon by the end of the 1960’s would be met on July 20 of 1969.
Where to find it: The model of a Saturn V at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center is located next to the fully staged original in the Davidson Center. The Saturn V on display inside the Davidson Center at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center is one of only three remaining in the world, with the other two at Johnson Space Center in Houston and at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The one here in Huntsville is on a horizontal display consisting of all stages, with museum displays underneath illustrating their features and functionality.
Perhaps second only to the Saturn V in terms of pop culture recognition, the Space Shuttle was the low Earth orbital spacecraft system used for thirty years from from April of 1981 to July of 2011. Originating in a study conducted by NASA and the US Air Force in the 1960’s, the Space Transportation System (STS) was to follow the Apollo Program as a budget-friendly and partially reusable method of sending humans into orbit for exploration and study.
The Shuttle that most Madison County residents see regularly is the Pathfinder. The Pathfinder is actually a Shuttle test simulator that was constructed of steel and wood in 1977 as a test article. It was used in the late 70’s as a way of testing cranes, checking roadway clearances, and other ground testing around the Kennedy Space Center.
After the Pathfinder made way for the Enterprise and other operational Shuttles, it sat in storage for many years until Teledyne Brown gave it the complete look of an actual Space Shuttle. After its makeover, it was on display at the Great Space Shuttle Exposition in Tokyo from 1983 to 1984. Once it returned to the United States, it finally made its way to the Space and Rocket Center in May of 1988, where it was placed on display in a complete Shuttle stack with an external tank and solid rocket boosters.
Where to find it: Parked at the grounds of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.
Last on our t-shirt is a rocket that looks a bit to our future in space exploration: the Space Launch System (SLS). It will replace the Saturn V as the most powerful rocket ever built, with about 20% more thrust and a comparable payload capacity.
Testing is currently underway, with the first round of test firing already completed in 2015. The first mission is currently scheduled within the next two years, which will consist of an uncrewed Orion spacecraft brought to lunar orbit. A probe mission to Europa is also currently planned to launch by 2022. After this, the return of astronauts to lunar orbit is planned to launch sometime before 2023, a mission to a captured asteroid by 2026, and to Mars in the 2030’s.
Where to find it: Scheduled to debut in 2018. Presently, a miniature scale model is in the Davidson Center.
The shirts containing these rockets are now available exclusively at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center gift shop starting today. (USSRC admission tickets are not required to enter the Gift Shop.) If you don’t see the shirts on shelves, just ask the helpful associates there and they’ll find one for you. If you are out of town, you can also order over the phone at 256.837.3400.
We also encourage you to take a look at Geek Out Huntsville and Rocket Center social media in the upcoming days, as we’ll be taking a closer look at some of the components of each of these rockets. Also be sure to send in any photos of yourself in your new shirt. We would absolutely love to see all of the awesome places both in and out of town that you’re wearing your Huntsville and Geek pride!
(Thanks to Rocket Historian and All Around Geek David Hitt for additional contributions for this article!)