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Rocket, Apollo capsule moved to safety indoors at Space & Rocket Center

HUNTSVILLE (AP) — An Apollo capsule and its launch escape rocket have been moved into the Davidson Saturn V Center being built at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center museum in Huntsville.

Birmingham architect Jim Griffo watched the steel cables move the rocket into position Friday and was relieved to have the centerpiece fully in the building that’s being finished around the rocket. The rocket had been decaying outside the museum, and efforts to raise money for a building to protect it began several years ago.

“It wasn’t constructed to withstand the rigors of the Alabama climate,” Space & Rocket Center spokesman Al Whitaker said. “It was literally rotting away in the backyard.”

The project to restore the rocket, build an exhibit center around it, and create a tramway for the museum and to the neighboring botanical gardens is estimated to cost more than $22 million.

Griffo is a principal in the architectural firm Gresham Smith and Partners, which designed the building. A team of about a half-dozen architects, interior designers and landscape architects from Gresham Smith are involved in the project, Griffo said.

The first 300,000-pound stage, with its five engines, and the 95,000-pound second stage are cradled on steel pedestals rising from the ground. The 34,000-pound third stage, 4,500-pound instrument ring, 7,500-pound service module and 10,400-pound command module including escape rocket are hung from the ceiling. The stages are separated so visitors can get clearer views of them.

Jan. 31 opening

The center is scheduled to be opened during the 50th anniversary of the first U.S. satellite launch, Jan. 31. Motorists driving along Interstate 565 already can see the Saturn V through the windows because it’s lit up at night.

“There’s nothing on the planet that’s going to compare to it,” Whitaker said.

The display hall and other areas of the 77,000-square-foot center will include exhibits representing the past, present and future. The center will include the first Alabama-built airplane, the 1908 Quick Monoplane; the Saturn V; and models of Ares I and Ares V rockets now being designed by NASA in Huntsville to return to the moon and eventually go to Mars.

The center will double the exhibit space available to the museum.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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