Iconic rocket at Alabama rest stop to be taken down, NASA says

The NASA rocket that towers at the north Alabama welcome center on Interstate 65 will be taken down, the space agency and the U.S. Space & Rocket Center said in a statement Friday night.

It’s the final verdict on a long-running issue of how best to deal with the deteriorating Saturn 1B rocket that’s become a popular landmark near the Tennessee state line. Officials have spent months studying the issue and determined that repairs would be cost prohibitive if the rocket could even withstand an extensive refurbishment.

Discussions have also begun on a possible replacement for the rocket at the rest stop.

“Initial estimates to disassemble and reconstruct the Saturn IB exceed $7 million with no guarantees that the rocket would withstand the process,” the statement said. “Several factors prevent it from being safely transported as it is too large to fit under the overpass bridges on I-65 and other routes also present obstacles.

“Extensive repairs, if possible, would need to be done on site and require a team of experts working fulltime for more than a year. None of these efforts will prevent the inevitable deterioration of a vehicle that was not designed to stand outdoors.”

State Rep. Andy Whitt, R-Ardmore, met with NASA officials Friday and said in the statement he looked forward to ideas for a replacement to the rocket. On Thursday, Whitt said he would “fight the fight” to save the rocket but relented following the meeting.