On land that was once a giant cotton field owned by the US Army, with equipment from NASA, and the inspirational insight of Dr. Wernher von Braun, the US Space & Rocket Center, was created. It is owned by the state of Alabama, much like a state park, and opened in 1970 with Ed Buckbee as its first director.
Buckbee worked for NASA from 1959 until 1968 when he was loaned to the US Space & Rocket Center. The Center opened in 1970 and Buckbee worked there as the director until this retirement in 1994.
Ed Buckbee said that the Space & Rocket Center was Wernher von Braun's dream of a way for the public to see things that only those inside the gates of Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville got to see and work on.
Von Braun thought that since there was Disney World and Amusement Parks, a park-like attraction focusing on space and science would be of interest to the general public. Over the years, many Innovated things have been added: the NASA tour, the Omni-Max Theatre, and Space Camp. Today, the US Spa
Von Braun Influence
Ed Buckbee, president of the NASA Retirees, recalled his days of working with von Braun. "He was a very impressive man, who was born in another country, but understood our culture and way of doing business. His people skills were phenomenal. His public speaking was persuasive. He truly believed we would be first to the moon." President Eisenhower appointed Wernher von Braun from the Army Missile Program to the new civilian association called NASA. Von Braun was known as the person who could build rockets. Eisenhower believed that a person who could build, didn't need to be born here to achieve. If you have skills, passion and know-how, you could success. Von Braun came to Huntsville with 114 other Germans specializing in rockets. A lot of them had been offered good jobs, but they chose to stay with von Braun because of his leadership and charisma.
"He was a great hand-shaker and very dynamic, " says Buckbee. "He was like a young Paul Newman. He was pleasant and always put people at ease. He'd go around a room and talk to each person." Buckbee confides that von Braun, who died in 1976 of cancer, always wanted to go into space. "He admired the astronauts, especially the first seven. He enjoyed being around them." Von Braun was happy that he was helping the astronauts to get in space. "If he had not gotten ill and the shuttle hadn't been delayed, he would have gone on the shuttle in the 70's as a scientist," says Buckbee. The race to the moon with the Russians was a tremendous competition. But Von Braun was very firm about showing and telling the public everything about the work of the space mission, unlike the Russians.