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Saturn 1B, a landmark welcoming all to Alabama, will soon be history

Safety concerns about the aging rocket mean that it will soon pass into Alabama lore.

ELKMONT, Ala. — If you've gone into or out of Alabama on I-65, chances are you saw a big, black and white rocket standing sentry by the side of the road. It's been a landmark on the Alabama-Tennessee state line at the Alabama Welcome Center for almost 44 years.

Soon, it will come down, and pass into Alabama history. The decision came with input from several organizations, and not without a lot of public comment. 

The U.S. Space & Rocket Center and NASA agree that allowing the aging rocket to stay in place could be a safety risk. It wasn't designed to withstand outdoor exposure, and "critical structural elements" have degraded beyond repair. And moving it would be very difficult, as it cannot go under overpass bridges or travel along other routes. Estimates to disassemble and reconstruct it would cost more than $7 million with no guarantee that the aging icon would survive the process.

And repairing it? Well, it would take experts working full time for more than a year...and would not change the fact that the rocket was not designed to handle years of exposure.

No date has been set for the removal, but you might not want to wait to wave hello...and goodbye...to the once-mighty rocket, an icon of Alabama's contribution to infinity and beyond.

See how it all began

Click here for more photos of the rocket's history.


Who all is involved with the project?

NASA owns the Saturn 1B, which was "one of three launch vehicles in the Saturn family and served as a test bed for the Apollo lunar program." It was used to carry Skylab astronauts into orbit and last flew in 1975.

The Welcome Center is in Limestone County. County Commission Chair Collin Daly, says, “After meeting with NASA and the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, I am 100 percent certain that we can work together to find a solution that echoes the voices of Alabama citizens and honors the legacy of those who took us to the moon.” 

State Rep. Andy Whitt, who chairs the House Committee on Economic Development and Tourism, wants to see a new landmark that "will withstand the test of time and serve as a symbol of Alabama’s past and current role in space and technology."

Dr. Kimberly Robinson, CEO and Executive Director of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center said, “We are inspired by the community’s passion for the rocket and the accomplishments it represents. Whether the rocket is replaced by a replica of the Saturn IB or another rocket, we’re excited at the possibility for a new enduring emblem of Alabama’s leadership in space exploration.” 

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