ARDMORE, Alabama (WAFF) – The Saturn 1B rocket has been a visual treat for many travelers passing by the Ardmore Welcome Center for more than 40 years.
The US Space and Rocket Center donated the rocket and Saturn 1B has been on display since 1979. It is one of three vehicles of the Saturn rocket group developed in Huntsville. The other two rockets are on display in Huntsville and Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The Welcome Center has been closed since November 28, 2022 and is scheduled to be rebuilt with demolition sometime this week. As the center is remodeled, what is this historic rocket all about?
“Unless you’ve been near the rocket, you don’t know it’s not in very good condition,” said Lee Sentell, director of the Alabama Department of Tourism. “There were some concerns about the safety of people in the area.”
There is an ongoing discussion with the Marshall Space Flight Center and the US Space and Rocket Center as to whether the rocket should be dismantled and restored, or what should be in its place.
“This rocket was never built to be out in the open for 40 to 50 years because rockets are built to be used once. So this missile should never last more than 40 years out there in this weather,” Sentell said. “It’s a challenge right now to decide what should be done. Doing nothing is not the right answer.”
Sentell explained that the destination of Saturn 1B is left up to not just Alabamaans, but people outside of the state as well. He’s not sure there’s a timeline for a decision, but he feels it could be several years before a decision is made.
According to Sentell, he worked at the US Space and Rocket Center in the 1980s and remembers the moments when the doors opened. He explained that he’s been a big fan of the rocket ever since Ed Buckbee, the founder of the US Space and Rocket Center, suggested it be placed at the Ardmore Welcome Center.
When it comes to opinions, Sentell believes Huntsville is about the future and wants to see something similar in place of the Saturn 1B rocket.
“If you look at all the people moving into the Huntsville area and all the new responsibilities that the Marshall Space Flight Center and the Redstone Arsenal have, I’d like to see a symbol of the future,” he said. “I just think it has to be something dramatic and exciting, something that makes people think, oh my gosh, look at that. We need to stop and see what’s going on with that.’ Just as the Saturn 1B has done for over 40 years, I would like to see something just as exciting for the next 30 to 40 years.”
Construction work on the new Ardmore Welcome Center is scheduled to begin in February.
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