Metal Architecture Home

Museums, Libraries and Cultural Centers

Stellar Space Center

The Davidson Center for Space Exploration at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., opened on Jan. 31, 50 years to the day after the launch of America's first satellite, Explorer 1. More than 1,400 dignitaries and guests, including Apollo 11's Buzz Aldrin, Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter and Apollo 13 commander Jim Lovell, attended the grand opening gala event.

The 77,000-square-foot (7,153-m2) building is 476 by 90 by 64 feet (145 by 27 by 20 m) and houses the visitor ticketing area, a 350-seat auditorium, a grand open stair with skylight, the Saturn V rocket and some related exhibits. A large exterior plaza is centered around a stand-up replica of the Saturn V.

The 426-foot (130-m) display of the Saturn V rocket is one of the three remaining rockets, which has been stored on-site for 35 years. The two other Saturn V rockets are at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the Johnson Space Center in Houston.


"Just about everything related to the overall building design centers on the display of the rocket," said Jeff Miller, senior project architect for Gresham, Smith and Partners, Birmingham, Ala. "The sheer size of the rocket alone makes the building monumental, so the building was designed as a background but with its own distinct visual homage to the Apollo space program."

Approximately 85,000 square feet (7,897 m2) of CF42 Light Mesa wall panels by Metl-Span Ltd., Lewisville, Texas, were used in the design of the center. To provide a visual contrast to the gleaming Saturn V lunar rocket vehicle on display inside the new $22 million facility, the 2 1/2-inch (64-mm) insulated panels were finished with Polar White on the exterior and custom Matte Black on the interior. The Matte Black interior finish provides good visual effects for the rocket display, which is primarily white with red and yellow components and accents.


"A great advantage of the Metl-Span panels is that we were able to clad the building, insulate it, and have both the exterior and interior finishes in one application," Miller said.

The first and second stages of the Saturn V display are pedestal-mounted with the third stage, instrument ring, lunar module section and service module, and command module/escape tower suspended from the building structure. This dramatic display is surrounded by 17,000 square feet (1,579 m2) of curtainwall glass facing north, providing a unique view into the building for motorists traveling on the adjacent I-565 highway.

USSRC opened in 1970 and is NASA's first visitor center. Since then it has served more than 12 million visitors. As the Official Visitor Information Center for the Marshall Space Flight Center, USSRC is committed to educating the public and students who attend SPACE CAMP about the work being done at MSFC. A particular focus is in the area of propulsion, where MSFC has made significant contributions in the Apollo and shuttle programs and is again on the forefront with the Ares rockets.

Completion of the Davidson Center is the first stage in an USSRC plan to better show-case NASA and MSFC contributions to historical, current and future space exploration.

The Davidson Center for Space Exploration is named after Dr. Julian Davidson, who spearheaded the Army's ballistic missile defense program and founded Davidson Technologies. A donation by Davidson and his wife, Dorothy, to complete the Saturn V display helps pay tribute to all the Alabama engineers who have worked in area missile and space programs.

For more information about the Davidson Center, go to