ARDMORE, Ala. – It’s an iconic landmark as you enter the state of Alabama. The Saturn 1B Rocket has towered over the Ardmore Welcome Center on Interstate 65 since 1979. However, it’s been brought to WHNT News 19’s attention that the rocket isn’t aging all that gracefully.
It's not easy or affordable to repair the massive rocket, which is 168 feet high and 22 feet wide.
"These artifacts are so important to the identity of this community," said U.S. Space and Rocket Center Director of Communications Pat Ammons.
With great artifacts comes great responsibility to maintain them. But when you have artifacts that are as big as rockets, the price to maintain them soars. The rocket was developed by the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville and associated contractors. The statue was erected by the citizens of Alabama to honor the men and women who made space exploration possible.
"These rockets are such a testament to the work that's been done here,” explained Ammons. “It's important they look good and we have the community's support to make that happen."
The rocket is property of NASA and the U.S. Space and Rocket Center is responsible for maintenance.
Hundreds of visitors stop by the attraction daily to take pictures and learn about our state's vital role in space exploration.
The issue lies in a close look at the rocket. Mold is creeping up the bottom, sap has tinted the original bright white glow and the worst damage is at the rocket’s base where wooden panels are rotting. There’s no doubt, the elements have taken a toll on the beloved artifact.
Now the U.S. Space and Rocket Center is working to restore the cherished landmark. The center is taking bids to repair the rocket base immediately. According to Ammons, repairs to the base will cost upwards of $15,000. From there, the center will bring restoration experts to the Ardmore location as well as the Space and Rocket Center to create an extensive long term restoration process.
"We know it’s the first thing people see when they enter the state," said Ammons. “It’s a point of pride for our city, our state and certainly for our center here. We want to do everything in our power to keep them in good shape.”
And that’s what they are doing. For every ticket sold at the center, $1 will be put into a restoration fund. To put that into perspective, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center is the top paid tourist attraction in the state and last year alone, 626,000 people visited the attraction.
In addition to ticket contributions, the center is reaching out to the community to help the effort. The center is welcoming people to donate to the cause. Soon, they will unveil an Adopt an Artifact program where people can truly have a hand in the restoration process for their community. The center is also asking for assistance from anyone who has an industrial crane to help in the restoration process.
Ultimately, this effort will take some time and happen in phases. The cost to restore the Saturn 1B Rocket alone will be tens of thousands of dollars. The space center is excited to begin the bid process now and have our rockets looking as brilliant as the rocket city is bright.