Saturn 1B Rocket at Alabama Rest Stop
Location: Rest stop on I-65 near Elkmont and Ardmore, Alabama
When to visit: Anytime during daylight hours
Time needed: 10-15 minutes
Website: waymarking.com (unofficial)
Welcome to Alabama! Look, we have a giant rocket!
That’s how visitors and road trippers are greeted as they pull in to the rest stop welcome center on I-65 in Alabama, one mile south of the Tennessee border.
I confess that I was not expecting to see a real rocket on display at a random rest stop in the Deep South, but there it was. A 224-foot-tall Saturn 1B rocket, one of three created in the Alabama city of Huntsville. A sign at the site explains the details:
In other words, one of the rockets in the Saturn series went to the moon, but not this one. It possibly could have flown into space, except it didn’t. So this rocket is kind of historic… or not.
The Saturn 1B Rocket at the Alabama Welcome Center
Regardless of where this thing did or did not go, unless you’ve been to NASA and have looked at space vehicles up close, the rocket is pretty cool to see.
There’s a fence around it (so no touching!), but you can get super close for an impressive look at a little piece of space history. Most people aren’t expecting to see a rocket in Alabama, so take pics and post them on Instagram!
In 2014, it was announced that the rocket would be getting a facelift, with new paint (more than 100 gallons!) and a fresh cleaning. It had gone eight years without being painted, so it was way overdue for the update. The rocket has been on display here since 1979.
The Alabama rocket is one of three Saturn 1B rockets currently on display. One is in Huntsville, Alabama, and another resides at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
If you find yourself driving between Nashville and Huntsville, make sure to pull over at the rest stop to catch a glimpse up close.
Oh No, the Rocket is Leaving!
Sadly, in 2023 it was announced that the Saturn 1B rocket would be removed from the I-65 rest area where it has stood for decades.
A statement from NASA explained, “This rocket was not built to withstand more than 40 years of continuous exposure to the elements of nature. The support structure has deteriorated over the years, the damage is too significant to repair, and could potentially pose a structural safety issue if left in place.”
Ok, that’s understandable. You don’t want this rocket falling over on top of people. But it’s still sad that this famous landmark will be going away.
The Alabama Tourism Department will decide where the rocket goes next. Huntsville, home of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, is a possible landing place for the rocket.
Other Sights at the Rest Stop
At this rest stop, I found a couple other quirky sights. Like this menacing sign that warns outsiders not to mess with Alabama:
And this “beautification award” which I assumed they presented to themselves. Turns out the state of Alabama likes to present these awards to various businesses and public spaces:
Neither is as impressive as the Saturn rocket, but I thought they were funny.
There are not a lot of places where you can see NASA history in the U.S., so make sure to stop by if you find yourself in Alabama. It’s right on the highway, so there’s no excuse not to stop!
This shuttle is especially cool place to stop on a Route 65 road trip from Nashville to New Orleans. Don’t forget to pull over at the first rest stop once you enter Alabama!
You need to be on the southbound side of the highway to pull into the rest stop parking lot next to the rocket.
You’ll see the tall shuttle from a distance as you begin approaching it from far away.
The U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama
For those who are looking for more rockets, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama has been welcoming visitors since 1970. They have a mock-up full-scale replica of the Saturn V rocket, plus lots of other attractions.
Tickets are a bit pricey – they run $30 for an adult ticket for the museum & movie combo, and $32 for the museum & planetarium combo.
Guided tours of Saturn V Hall are available daily at 10am, 12pm, 1:30pm, and 3:30pm. Of course, you are free to explore without the guided tour.
I recently had a chance to visit the Space and Rocket Center for the first time, and saw several more rockets, both indoors and outside. The center is an awesome way to learn about the history of American space exploration, and to learn about each of the specific rockets which remain on display.
There’s one huge rocket that can be seen from the highway as you’re driving past.
So there’s not one, but two chances to see actual rockets from the highway while driving through Alabama!
Learning about America’s history of space exploration is a fascinating way to spend time, so make sure to visit these rockets if you find yourself in Alabama.
Have you ever seen the rocket in Alabama or visited the Rocket Center?