February 5, 2023

The Ohio hometown of legendary astronaut John Glenn has an interest in acquiring the Saturn 1B rocket, which is destined to be removed from an Interstate Welcome Center in northern Alabama.

Village Manager of New Concord, Ohio, Rick Giroux, described his interest as “exploratory” in an email to AL.com on Wednesday. The village plans to have the rocket displayed at the John & Annie Glenn Museum in New Concord, Giroux said.

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NASA and the US Space & Rocket Center announced last week that the rocket, which has been irreparably decaying after more than 40 years at the Interstate 65 Welcome Center south of the Tennessee state line, will be dismantled for safety reasons. In a statement released Friday night, the space agency and rocket center estimated repairs would cost about $7 million, with no assurance the rocket would withstand refurbishment.

As Giroux saw headlines about the rocket’s impending demise, he began to wonder if the rocket could be on display in the tiny eastern Ohio town where Glenn grew up more than 500 miles away.

“It would definitely be a tourist magnet,” Giroux said.

rocket athens rest stop

Shown here at the I-65 Alabama Welcome Center just south of the Tennessee state line in January 2023, the Saturn 1B rocket has an uncertain future amid continued decay. (Paul Gattis | [email protected])

NASA selected Glenn to their first class of seven astronauts, and in 1962 he became the first American to orbit the Earth – and became a national hero in the space race with the Soviet Union. A week after his nearly five-hour mission to orbit the earth three times, Glenn and his wife were celebrated in a New York City confetti parade attended by an estimated 4 million people.

Glenn served in the US Senate for 25 years. He returned to spaceflight in 1998 aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery, becoming the oldest person to fly in space at the time, aged 77.

Glenn died in 2016. Annie Glenn, a renowned advocate for people with communication disabilities, died in 2020 at the age of 100 from complications related to COVID-19. Annie Glenn received the American Speech and Hearing Association’s first national award for “providing an inspirational model for people with communication disabilities,” according to the museum’s website.

The museum is in the home of Glenn and his wife. His mission statement: “It is our mission to teach 20th-century American history through the prism of the life of the Glenns.”

Giroux said the village of just 2,400 people is “very interested” in receiving a full-size replica or authentic Mercury capsule for display in the museum, similar to the spacecraft Glenn flew on his historic voyage.

But the Saturn 1B rocket also caught Giroux’s attention. And while his initial research gave him “sticker shock,” he said the village was at least interested in the capsule portion of the 168-foot rocket, given the potential cost of moving the rocket to Ohio. NASA’s statement last week said the rocket, which is 22 feet in diameter, was too big to move because of highway overpasses and other obstacles.

The rocket is owned by NASA and has been loaned to the Alabama Department of Transportation through the Rocket Center for display at the Welcome Center. NASA has made no announcement regarding a timeline for launching the rocket. The Welcome Center is closed for renovations.

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