HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Driving down I-565 you can't help but notice the 363-foot tall rocket replica towering above Huntsville at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. The center is nearing the end of its months-long effort to "Revive the Saturn V" so we checked in on the progress.
Now, a shiny exterior covered in paint shines on the replica.
Pat Ammons, USSRC Director of Communications, said, "At 363 feet up in the air back in November, they started pressure washing it, then they primed it and they put the final coat of paint."
She added, "This is a special paint supplied to us by PPG Architectural. This is a paint that is very specific to exterior surfaces. So this is one we hope will last us for a long time."
Ammons said even through the cold of winter, the crane operator and painters were hard at work. They can't work in the rain, but she said they've moved quite fast.
"They brought in thermal heated blankets and brought them up inside the rocket to help prepare the surface to be warm enough to paint," she stated. "There's been a lot that has gone into it that is probably well beyond what the naked eye can see."
The crane used to do the job is 300 tons. Ammons said it required special power to lift as tall as they needed to get paint on the tip top of the rocket.
"We kind of get used to how big and amazing this rocket is, but this is a big project. It has taken a lot of coordination. It has gone really smoothly," she said.
Drivers have gotten a front row seat to the action over the past few months. The progress has been highly visible.
"I think what's been really fun is to hear how many people have been excited about this," she said. "Well more than 111,000 cars drive past this every day. So you add that up-- we are showing hundreds of thousands of people every day the opportunity to see this project. It's been exciting to share it. You can't miss it!"
A huge fundraising effort has been ongoing to get the $1.3 million project paid for. The latest installment, A Brush With Greatness, ends April 3. And it could get you up close and personal with the Saturn V.
Brush with Greatness
A Brush with Greatness is your way to help paint the Saturn V replica.
USSRC officials said donations of $1000 or more will get you a chance to hop on a lift and go up part of the way to do some painting yourself.
"We'll take you up 40 or 45 feet so that you can paint the first stage of the rocket-- actually put some finishing touches on it," said Brenda Carr, USSRC Vice President of Advancement. "We would like to have at least 50 donors. We will take as many as would like to go up at $1000 or more," she said.
The Rocket Center said opportunities are limited to April 5 - 6. The fundraising portion of that part of the drive ends on April 3. If there is rain, the painting can be rescheduled.
Carr said the fundraising is helping the Rocket Center realize the icon the rocket has become for the community.
"89% of the people who are donating are first-time donors for the Rocket Center," she said, "which surprised us because we have a robust family of donors. And their donations are larger than your typical online amounts. They are averaging $73. And many of the donors were saying, 'How much do I have to give to go up and paint a little bit?'"
Carr said that's how A Brush With Greatness was born, in the effort to get the Rocket Center ready for Apollo 50.
"I think it is a reminder of what this area did. We are the only people on the planet who have worked on a project that has successfully landed human beings on the moon. And what we have heard from the Saturn V campaign is people saying, 'I want to give in honor of someone I know who worked on the Saturn/Apollo program. So I think there is a lot of pride as we look at this refurbished rocket because we know we are going to welcome visitors from all over the world this year as they come to Huntsville and other NASA centers looking at the U.S. Space program."
The rocket is part of a larger revitalization of the rockets in the USSRC Rocket Park.
"This is far from the complete journey," said Carr.