Start the new year off smart. Set your holiday afterburner for Huntsville and get indoors for family fun at SciQuest and the Space Center.
A mere six-hour drive from Cincinnati, Huntsville is the “space capital” of America. Known best for the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, my family recently took a trip to see the world’s largest space attraction as well as Sci-Quest, Huntsville’s hands-on science center.
The Quest for Knowledge
We thought we were lost, but found SciQuest tucked alongside Calhoun Community College. Once in, there were more than 120 hands-on experiments to try! Play with sound dynamics, car-engine mechanics and physics, or experience disaster through the tornado and earthquake simulators. The lobby’s giant Rube Goldberg machine engrossed the kids while we paid admission.
My son Zane, 6, immediately went for the barf-inducing personal centrifuge and robotic area with remote-controlled apparatus. Nolan, 4, liked the bubble-blowing activities and “Grossology” displays. This permanent exhibit teaches the human physiology behind boogers and burps. Did you know “flavored” burps carry the odor of foods digesting in the stomach? We also “rock”-climbed a wall of scabs and worked pulleys and levers for “special” effects.
The Immersive Theater, which unfortunately was broken on our visit, is an interactive 3D experience where individual touch-screen computers allow creation of customized adventures.
Exhibit signs are geared toward third-graders, but even little ones understand the fun of pushing buttons and resulting reactions! The “early childhood area” designed by educators (no kids older than 7 allowed!) offers musical instruments, building materials, a foam pit play area and a tree fort with slide. The friendly atmosphere includes restrooms with changing tables, child-height toilets and drinking fountains.
Tall spaceships beckon visitors to the U.S. Space Center’s Rocket Park. These are actual spacecraft to see up close – definitely worth braving January’s weather for a quick tour! Weather permitting, there’s also a G-Force ride for big kids who aren’t afraid of heights, and a small-scale “Kids Cosmos” area for space cadets ages 8 and younger. Play lunar lander or crawl through a space station.
Inside, prepare for the gimmes as you pass through the gift shop (cool souvenirs at decent prices) to what looks like the passageway into a rocketship. With a countdown announcer and window-views of “Mars,” a fearful Zane ran for the exit, convinced he was about to blast skyward! The museum exhibits of moon rock, astronaut gear and Apollo quarantine van proved a bit dry for my young’ns, even after meeting a little girl their age who really tried to impart her interest. They opted to walk through while looking around, but picked up enough facts to spark more questions later.
Daddy enjoyed the space station “show” and cockpit trainer. I suggest wearing tennis shoes to try the “Olympus Mons” Marscape climbing wall. Admission includes an IMAX show at the Spacedome theatre, during which kids can try freeze-dried ice cream like the astronauts eat. An orange-suited helper named “Buzz Lightyear” said the Space Walk and Shuttle-landing simulator were most popular. The U.S. Space and Rocket Center also offers space camp training for parents and children, inclusive for those with hearing and vision disabilities! The boys were fascinated about these real kids (age 9 and older) learning grown-up astronaut skills.
Most tourist spots are within walking distance from Church Street, but since you’ll need to drive to SciQuest and the Space Center, decide ahead of time whether to lunch downtown or at one of the attractions. SciQuest has a room with vending machines and tables – great for snacking on your own picnic lunch. And the Space Center food court doesn’t open till Feb. 28, but the Space Camp student cafeteria is open to the public from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. daily. My kids liked peeking in at the astronauts-in-training! After all the walking, our little troopers were pooped. They crashed out shortly after touchdown in their comfy carseats, dreaming of someday star-flights. And we parents zoomed toward home, knowing we’d spent a day filling their heads with the right stuff.
Huntsville/Madison Co. Visitors Bureau
500 Church St. NW
256-533-5723 | huntsville.org
Mon – Sat 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., Sun 12 – 5 p.m.
102-D Wynn Drive, Cummings Research Park
256-837-0606 | sci-quest.org
Open Tue – Fri 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.,
Sat 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., Sun 1 – 5 p.m. (closed Mon)
Admission is $7 for adults, $6 for children older than age 2, younger are free
Immersive Theatre tickets cost an additional $5.75
U.S. Space and Rocket Center
1 Tranquility Base
256-837-3400 | spacecamp.com
Open daily 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Admission is $18.95 for adults,
$12.95 for ages 3 – 12, younger are free
by Jen Smith