When NASA clarified that the Saturn 1B rocket, which has been welcoming travelers down Interstate 65 for more than 40 years, would be shot down, it prompted a host of other questions.
Perhaps the most important of these questions: if the rocket is grounded horizontally, what then?
NASA officials at the Marshall Space Flight Center on Wednesday gave a glimpse of plans for the rocket, aside from announcing its impending demise.
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The process begins, NASA said in an email to AL.com, with the landing of the rocket at the currently renovated Southbound Welcome Center on I-65 near the Tennessee state line. This process is the responsibility of the US Space & Rocket Center, to which the rocket is on loan from NASA.
This process doesn’t seem easy. The missile is 168 feet tall and 22 feet in diameter when in a fragile condition. While it has made an imposing figure on the North Alabama landscape since the 1970s, bringing it down safely will be a task requiring land clearing to make room for it. This process is already underway with the renovation of ALDOT at the Welcome Center, which includes the recent demolition of the Welcome Center building at the rest area.
Once the rocket is on the ground, NASA takes over.
“The USSRC will launch the missile at the Welcome Center,” the NASA email said. “NASA will then break it down into small pieces for safe removal from the site, and the metal will be reused. It will not end up in a landfill. The rocket is no longer repairable and restorable. Efforts going forward will focus on future plans for the rest area, led by the state leadership.”
NASA has not elaborated on how the metal is reused.
There have also been inquiries about adopting the rocket, including from the small town of New Concord, Ohio — the hometown of legendary astronaut and former US Senator John Glenn. A museum in the former home of Glenn and his wife Annie would be the rocket’s new home as city officials envisioned it.
NASA officials pointed out that the rocket’s poor condition essentially makes the change of ownership a moot point.
“Because the support structure has deteriorated over the years, the damage is too extensive to repair and could potentially pose a structural safety issue if left in place, the focus right now is on getting the rocket down safely.” to bring,” NASA said in the email when asked about other companies expressing interest in taking possession of the rocket.
While NASA has made clear its plans to dismantle the rocket, it’s not clear how quickly that could happen. NASA said Wednesday it hadn’t set a timetable for getting the rocket to the ground.
“Exact dates have not been established,” NASA said.
NASA announced on January 20 that the rocket would be dismantled, citing safety issues and their estimate that repairs and restorations would cost $7 million, assuming the rocket could withstand it. The space agency also determined that the rocket was too large to be shipped intact to a repair site because it would not pass through highway overpasses.
The rocket, which was no longer needed when it was installed at the Welcome Center in 1979, was not designed to withstand the rigors of being exposed to the elements outdoors for more than four decades, according to NASA.