The quote “Houston, we’ve had a problem” is forever linked to the city of Houston. On April 11, 1970, John Swigert Jr of Apollo 13 reported a problem to mission control in Space City. This mission was known as the most successful failure in NASA history. However, it was the 1995 film, Apollo 13, that cemented the misquoted version in our minds, “Houston, we have a problem”.
We seem to be attracted to things related to space and space travel, so we planned our short stay in Houston to allow for a day at the Space Center Houston. This is the official Visitors Center of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, and is operated by a non-profit organization.
As some of you may know, we have taken several space and missile tours recently in New Mexico, the birthplace of space history. Here within NASA’s Johnson Space Center we connected the origins of Americas space activities to the accomplishments of NASA. Each attraction is self-guided so we spent plenty of time here while a storm raged outside. This attraction is geared toward kids through adults of all ages, and they do an excellent job of making it interesting for everyone.
The major parts of the space programs covered are Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, Shuttle and the International Space Station (ISS).
We started our morning with the popular tram tour, which took us to building 9 – the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility where research and assembly of space vehicle mockups takes place.
This was a very interesting tour which showed components of the International Space Station, the current Orion project, and several other robotic devices and vehicles currently under development. The buildings visited on the tram tour are real working areas of Johnson Space Center and are subject to closure without notice.
And that’s just what happened to the Historic Apollo Mission Control Center tour – darn! So, our only other stop was at the “all new” Saturn V Complex at Rocket Park. Housed here is one of the three surviving vehicles built to launch astronauts during the Apollo program of the late 60’s and early 70’s. All we can say is – WOW! We grew up during the Apollo Mission years and this massive rocket was something special. Along the walls were the history of the Apollo missions 1 – 17. This was a full-sized Saturn-5 rocket with all 5 engines attached, and it was simply too huge to describe or capture in pictures. You must go there to appreciate this one!
We scheduled the rest of our day to allow us to check out the other events available, including shows covering the current ISS and Mars rover activities. At the Mission Status Center, a Mission Briefing Officer provided us live updates on the current mission to Mars featuring the “Curiosity Rover“. It landed on Mars on August 5, 2012 and is conducting all kinds of new experiments. The briefing showed us video of the landing and the latest activities on the red planet. Amazing and fascinating space stuff!
Between these activities we made sure to walk around and check out the dozens of other displays, including a complete shuttle engine, space laboratories and a shuttle cockpit mockup. On display was the actual Apollo 17 Command Module named America that flew the last mission to the moon.
Of note was the vault where moon rocks were safely secured and we were able to “touch” the moon.
There was also a live demonstration of how astronauts live in space, such as how urine is recycled and consumed over and over, and what it’s like to sleep aboard the International Space Station.
The Center has the space shuttle Independence formerly known as Explorer sitting on their front lawn, which was used for landing tests but never actually went into space.
We can’t recommend this one enough – a must see!
Amidst the rain and wind we celebrated Steve’s birthday at Saltgrass Steakhouse where he had his favorite beef cut, prime rib!
Upcoming stops – do share with us any “must do’s” at these locations:
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