Davidson Center for Space Exploration
Showcasing Alabama’s Role in Space Exploration
Inducted in 2012
The Davidson Center for Space Exploration at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville was designed to preserve and celebrate the restored Saturn V rocket, one of the greatest technological accomplishments of the 20th century. The magnificent building design guides visitors through the history of the Saturn V and Alabama’s incredible role in the space program. The facility opened on Jan. 31, 2008, the 50th anniversary of the launch of America’s first satellite, Explorer 1.
The facility’s main attraction is the 476-foot-long display hall that houses one of the three remaining Saturn V rockets, the vehicle that took man to the moon. The Saturn V is 363 feet tall, weighs 6.2 million pounds fully loaded and has the ability to generate 7.6 million pounds of thrust. The rocket is a Smithsonian Institute artifact and was engineered in the 1960s at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. It is the most powerful liquid fuel rocket in history. The other Saturn V rockets are located at Kennedy Space Center in Florida and Johnson Space Center in Houston.
The 70,000 square foot building is positioned on the site to form a courtyard around a full-scale model of the Saturn V. Geometrically-formed architectural elements are used to represent gravitational pull and space travel. The design allows visitors to travel in a continuous motion as in space and massive glass panels allow travelers on I-565 to get a striking view of the display hall as they pass by. The center also includes a 350-seat digital 3D theater, gift shop and commercial kitchen to accommodate groups of up to 1,400.
The $22 million facility is named after Julian Davidson, an Auburn University graduate who spearheaded the Army’s ballistic missile defense program and founded Davidson Technologies. His contributions to the ballistic missile defense program are considered among the most significant technological achievements in our nation’s history. During the dedication ceremony, Davidson and his wife, Dorothy, noted the facility is a tribute to all the Alabama men and women who have worked in missile and space programs.
In 2010, Gresham, Smith and Partners were honored with the 2010 American Institute of Architects Birmingham People’s Choice Award for design of the Davidson Center. The building was among 30 finalists and received nearly 70 percent of the votes cast in the category. Also, in 2010, LBYD, Inc. received the American Consulting Engineers Council of Alabama Engineering Excellence Grand Award for their engineering contributions to the facility.
The Davidson Center serves as the front door for the U.S. Space & Rocket Center’s 500,000 annual visitors. Future plans for the facility include the construction of a $2 million spacewalk and a $2.6 million tram system connecting the Space & Rocket Center to the Huntsville Botanical Gardens, the Redstone Arsenal and other city attractions. NASA points to this impressive facility as the first stage to better showcase its contributions to historical, current and future space exploration.