Thursday, September 23, 2010

Johnson Space Center

Alternative Title:  Feeding My Inner Nerd

I have driven down I-45 from Dallas to Houston several times a year, almost every year, and I have never stopped at the Johnson Space Center.  If I had thought about it, I would have wanted to go, but I just never did...think about it, that is.  I have to say it's one of the best 'thoughts' I've had in awhile.  One important detail, admission was only 15 dollars (about 35 dollars cheaper than Florida's station, though that's still on my list too).  I took Friday off work a week or so ago to go to the beach with my Mom to celebrate her birthday.  We took an extra day so the weekend wouldn't be so rushed, and with a few more hours to add to my weekend vacation, I thought this might be a fun stop.  It's right off of 45 between Houston, and Galveston.  It's September, so not too many groups have booked their trips to the center yet, and it was a work day, and most people work.  Go figure. 
I didn't have any idea what to expect, and initially, upon exploring the museum, it met my expectations.  I've always loved stars, space, and just Mother Nature's nightly show (a little harder to appreciate in the suburbs, but....I try).  The Planetarium was my favorite field trip in school, so...I knew a space center would feed that positive memory, and it did. 
I have to add, if I had kids with me, this would also be a PERFECT spot.  They had a ginormous play area.  Seriously, it was made for big and little kids alike, and they were having a blast.  There's a food court, and a gift shop...or two with all sorts of fun things.  Like the ever, wonderful, space ice cream. 
The museum also had a lot of informative movies, and the one movie I sat down for explained America's roll in the space race, and the journey that followed.  The movie also housed this podium...
This is the actual podium President Kennedy used to make his famous speech about America's commitment to getting the first man on the moon.  Mission Accomplished. 
They had an area with all sorts of tools, and machines used in space.  Along with moon rocks. 
There are a collection of these, but there is also another building on site that houses the largest collection of moon rocks...anywhere, well, assuming you don't count the 'moon' as an anywhere.  How about 'anywhere' on Earth?
There were several areas with simulations you could walk through that shows you what the inside of different space stations, and shuttles look and feel like.  The 'pilots seat.'
There are so many pictures I could share from this experience, with lots of shiny things, and flying objects, but I only get so much time before I run people off, including my future self, so I need to talk about my favorite part of the museum that I had no idea existed, and made this far exceed my expectations.  Every thirty minutes a tram takes off.  I actually had no idea where the tram went, or that there was anywhere for the tram TO go.  I got on anyway, it took you from the museum to the actual working parts of NASA.  Who knew 'NASA' in Houston is more than a place with a gift shop?  There was a little town of thousands of these space people, and all the buildings that house their research. 
Here is my #1 favorite building.  Mission Control.  You know, "Houston, we have a problem." MISSION CONTROL!
No windows.  I don't know why. I do know the flag on top marks the center of NASA's site, and the American flag flies as long as there is an American in space.  It has flown for 10 years (and counting). 
They then took us inside.
This IS Mission Control.  When shuttles take off, this is where the talking happens.  It's hard to see in my picture, but each spot is labeled with the job of who sits in each seat.  The right screen was currently showing a collection of weather data (mostly over Florida where the shuttles take off).  The middle screen cited the space station's current route, with all sorts of other information I can't remember, the third screen had a live shot of NASA's Florida site.  The plaques on the left hand wall are all the successful mission.  Each plaque is the patch design the crew gets to design before their flight.  Not shown in this picture are the missions in process plaques on the right hand wall, or those about to happen, and a memorial to those that did not make it home. 
In another room, there are another set of seats much like this that were being manned.  They are manned 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and they are in constant communication with Russia, and the International Space Station.  It's where all the directions are given.  I can't even do all the fun information justice. 
Here's another building on site.  This is where the astronauts stay a week + before their flights.  They are quarantined in this building so the missions don't need to be scratched due to illness etc.   It's a 'green' building, I'm sure that matters, but I'm glad to know NASA is doing it's part to save the Earth while it explores the rest of the universe. 
This is a grove of trees on site with memorial plaques. There is one tree planted for each astronaut that has been lost in action. 
This little sandbox is actual a training site for the astronauts.  They come out here to simulate the moon's surface.  (The 0 gravity simulation pool is also near here, but we didn't see it).
Another building we toured was a training site.  The astraunauts train here before heading to space, and there were all sorts of machines, toys, and science attached to that.  There is a 'mock' shuttle set up.  The astronauts in training live and work here.  There were shiny scrapes along the shuttle from where they practice emergencies exits in full gear.  There was a gigantic 'arm' on site where they practice moving objects in space, and there were currently trainees on site practicing repairs in space....and lots and lots more, but my memory bank is filled to capacity.  I'm going to save some for *you* to learn for the first time on the visit.
We were driven past a ton of other interesting buildings, there is a 'kitchen' where all space food is manufactured. 
And then there is this building that houses an actual shuttle. 
This was a mission that got scratched because of the Vietnam War.
All I can say is that shuttles are much bigger than I could have even imagined. 
I guess I can end with, NASA far exceeded my expectations.  I'd say it was 'Out of this Word' if I wouldn't make myself throw up by saying something that cliche.