Just outside of Washington, D.C., you’ll find the Goddard Space Flight Center, one of NASA’s primary research laboratories. As the agency’s first space center, scientists and engineers at Goddard were involved in the agency’s achievements from the very start. Most of the campus is closed to the general public. However, behind the visitor center, there’s a “Rocket Garden” filled with decommissioned rockets and explanatory plaques.
Among the rockets on display are an Apollo capsule that was used for training astronauts before missions, sounding rockets that were used to carry scientific instruments into orbit and collect atmospheric data, and a massive 114,170-pound Thor Delta-B rocket.
The Delta rocket series was a workhorse vehicle for NASA satellite launches. Goddard Space Flight Center managed the highly successful Delta program for NASA throughout the 1960s. The modern variant, Delta IV, still launches payloads today. Before installation at Goddard’s Visitor Center, this rocket was featured in a display at the 1964-’65 New York World’s Fair.
While most of the work on manned spaceflight missions was eventually transferred to later NASA facilities in Texas and Florida, Goddard remains one of the primary facilities for projects involving the organization’s unmanned missions. Perhaps the most notable of the satellites controlled by Goddard is the Hubble Space Telescope, which was launched in 1990. Its successor is the James Webb Space Telescope.
The center was established in May of 1959, a year after President Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act that established NASA. It’s named after Dr. Robert Hutchings Goddard an American engineer who was a pioneer in the field of rocketry.
Inside the visitor center, you can also find exhibits on the work being done in the facility, models of the Hubble Space Telescope and the International Space Station, and a moon rock.
Know Before You Go
There is ample parking in the visitor center lot. Free to enter. The visitor center is closed on most Mondays and some holidays. Check the website for specific hours, as they are seasonal. Food is not permitted inside the visitor center, but there is a bank of picnic tables beneath the tree canopy just to the side of the Rocket Garden and gift shop.