Originally created 01/17/04

Alabama museum raising $5 million to save Saturn V moon rocket



HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- While President Bush is pointing America toward Mars, an Alabama museum is trying to save a nearly 40-year-old Saturn V moon rocket.

The state-owned U.S. Space and Rocket Center is home to the huge rocket, a tourist attraction that rests on its side in four pieces, unprotected from the weather.

But 30 years of constant exposure have taken their toll on the Saturn V, a test version that was fired at nearby Marshall Space Flight Center in the late 1960s.

The rocket's white and black skin is pocked with pits and cracks, and patches of mold and mildew are evident. In one spot, a small plant grows out of a fissure.

The center has raised about $1.5 million of the $5 million total it needs to refurbish the rocket and move it to a more prominent location, where it will be covered by a shelter.

"They built these things to fly in space, but not to withstand the rigors of the Alabama climate," said Al Whitaker, a spokesman for the center.

Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987, the Huntsville rocket is the only surviving Saturn composed of pieces that were first intended to be mated together, said Frank Winter, rocketry curator of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

Saturn V rockets displayed at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and Johnson Space Center in Texas are complete, Winter said, but they were constructed from pieces of different vehicles. They have not been designated as national historic landmarks.

The rocket in Huntsville is "probably the most complete in terms that it was all intended for testing," Winter said Wednesday as Bush announced new space goals.

The Saturn propelled American astronauts to the moon for landings beginning in 1969.