Dec 9, 2019
We had killed enough time in Galveston and it was time to start heading back to Livingston to see if our driver’s licenses and car title had arrived. We weren’t in a hurry though, it was Monday and I targeted Friday to be back in Livingston as that would be three full weeks.
We packed up and waved goodbye to Galveston and started back up north and less than an hour later we arrived at the Houston Space Center. While the actual rockets are launched from Florida, Houston is where astronauts train, the rockets are designed and were the mission controllers are. There was an unexpected $5 parking fee but as we pulled into the parking lot we found ourselves facing the spectacular sight of a full sized space shuttle carried on top of a Boeing 747 jet.
After admiring the space shuttle we paid the rather pricey $24 per person to get in after AAA discount we got in. Strangely enough security tried to ban my DJI camera stabilizer but let me bring it in after we promised not to use it. The Space Center visitor area is filled with a number of exhibits and things to do, including VR simulators (for additional price), exhibits of real space capsules, and is one of only 8 places in the world where the public can touch an actual moon rock.
The main feature of the Houston Space Center are its two tram tours, one of the original historical mission control center that managed the first moon landing and a second, longer tour of the modern mission control, the astronaut training center and Rocket park where a real Saturn V rocket rests. The first tour requires a free timed ticket so I got that and we looked at the exhibits and had lunch in Rover while we waited for our 12:30 tour time. The Center had a pretty decent food court but it was kind of expensive at $12 for a burger although I was tempted by the $4 pizza slices, it was still cheaper to eat noodles at home.
Right on time we boarded our tram and it took us into the actual working part of the Houston Space Center. The Space Center is purposefully designed to look a lot like a college campus with numerous separate normal looking buildings surrounded by normal lawns, parking lots and roaming deer. I kinda expected more satellite dishes on the roof but it looked a lot like a standard office park. It is not the outside that counts though and we quickly arrived at a nondescript building and were ushered up several flights of stairs into the visitor viewing area behind the mission control room that controlled the Apollo missions and the first moon landing. The was one of four control rooms in the building, was no longer in use and had been restored to the day of the first moon landing with manuals spread around and an abundance of full cigarette butt dishes. The computers were all 1960’s vintage and lit up as we watched a recreation of the final few minutes of the first moon landing. I thought it was kind of cool but Olivia was not very impressed. Holly was hit with another hammer of knowledge and had all sorts of questions about how far the moon was, how high the international space station was, etc.
We got back to the visitor center just in time to catch the other tram tour. Our first stop on this tour was back to the same building but this time we went to one of the modern mission control centers. This room featured numerous large flat screen monitors and no cigarettes at all. It was the backup and training mission control center which meant all the equipment was fully functional because if anything happened with the main control center the staff would just move to this room. Later on this room would be used to control the Mars mission at which time only VIP’s would be able to go to the visitor viewing area in the back.
Next stop was the astronaut training facility which was housed in a large warehouse. Inside were mockups of the International Space station that the astronauts used to train in and we got to see some research work being done on robots that NASA hoped to use in future space missions.
Our final stop was the Saturn V rocket like the one used to send people to the moon. This was an actual rocket that had never been used and was now in a warehouse laying on it’s side. It is hard to describe how big the rocket was, think of it as a large, round office building taller than the Statue of Liberty laying on it’s side but able to fly. Huge.
We finished our tour and returned to the visitor center where we looked at the other exhibits. We finally left the Space Center as it was about to close and drove to the nearby McDonalds to hang our for a while before going to a Cracker Barrel for the night. I wish that “The Right Stuff” was available on Netflix streaming so we could watch it but alas it was not available.