North Alabama I-65 Welcome Center Missile Will Cost Millions To Repair Or Replace; The legislature is looking for options

Alabama lawmakers are trying to figure out what to do with the rocket at the Alabama Rest Area off Interstate 65 in Ardmore and how to pay for the renovation or replacement. One lawmaker even suggested using COVID-19 aid funds.

The 224-foot Saturn IB rocket was one of three Saturn rockets developed at Huntsville, but was not the launch vehicle that ultimately took the first humans to the moon. It has been on display at the service area since 1979 but was closed last November for renovations at the service area.

According to State Rep. Danny Crawford (R-Athens), the rocket was never built to withstand irradiation for more than 40 years. He argued that recent deterioration over the past several decades has made it a security risk.

“A lot of [the problem] is exposure but the main problem is the birds, pigeons and everything for 40 years,” Crawford told 1819 News. “They lived in it [the rocket], and the acid from their excrement has rusted almost every support beam in this rocket. There are holes the size of softballs all in those spider beams they call them.

Lawmakers have earmarked nearly $1 million for the rocket’s renovation in the fiscal 2023 budget. At the time, Crawford and others working on the rocket thought it only needed a major overhaul. However, at a meeting with stakeholders and engineers in October, the cost of preserving the rocket was estimated at $7 million.

“When we started thinking about how to get this rocket back up to speed about two years ago … it was difficult to get information,” Crawford said. “We weren’t even sure who owned the rocket at the time, so it was difficult to get information about what it would cost. At the time we thought it would be easy to take it down, paint it and put it back up.”

Crawford said he and other lawmakers are exploring options, including potentially replacing the missile with a 3D-printed replica or a newer missile. The artificial rocket would cost $3 million, but Crawford said it would last forever. On the other hand, acquiring a new rocket could cost around $5 million.

Lawmakers are also trying to figure out how much money they can get for the project and from where. Crawford said they have been in talks with the Alabama Aerospace Association and other private companies in the Huntsville area to secure donations. He also said they hope to spend at least $2 million in COVID-19 relief funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

“We don’t want to lose this icon,” Crawford said. “…We want that missile’s presence… So in the discussion, we looked at what options we have and what we could do with the most money we could get and where we would get the money.”

Crawford said he would like to get the missile situation under control before the welcome center reopens for renovations in about two years.

“It will just take patience from people who are really concerned about it and good communication from everyone,” he said. “If we don’t have it, we can always put it up at a later date if we haven’t solved it at that point.”

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