Here in Pearland, we are very close to the Johnson Space Center (which is the actual, working space center) and Space Center Houston (which is the interactive museum right next to the NASA grounds.
So close, in fact, that when they were filming the movie, “Apollo 13” at the Johnson Space Center, the actors ate at the little Mexican restaurant that is just about a 1/4 mile down the road from the RV Park. We went in there for dinner last week, and saw the autographed picture on the wall, and enjoyed the “Tom Hanks Special” (a.k.a. chicken enchiladas) for dinner.
It was good – and getting closer to the ‘Yankee” version of Mexican food that we’re used to, and prefer!
So, since we were so close the the space center, we decided to check it out. We got a little distracted on the way there, and stopping for lunch at Jason’s Deli, and had to go into the Container Store (never been in one before). Boy – if they can’t get your life organized, you’re beyond hope!
That little detour resulted in us not getting into the Space Center until 1pm, and they closed at 5pm, so we had to be efficient in our visit. We went straight to the tram tours of the Johnson Space Center, and picked the one (there are two different tram tours – Mission Control, and the Astronaut Training Center) with the shorter line.
Now, it would have been nice if you could sign up for a tour time and look around while you waited, but they don’t do that, so we just stood in line for the next 45 minutes, until it was our turn to get on the tram.
Our destination was Mission Control.
Our tram drove us across the road the the JSC, past the resident longhorns,
and the Saturn V Building (we would stop there on the return trip).
Once we arrived at Mission Control, we waited on the first floor for the previous tour group to exit. There were several Mission Control workstations on display, demonstrating the evolution of technology in the last 50+ years.
Early Space Days (the Apollo Era)
The next evolution (Space Shuttle Era), and the current setup to the right
This is the room that was used for all of the Apollo Space Flights, and now it’s a training room (it was a pretty light training day) and the monitor was showing the live feed from the International Space Station. The astronauts had completed their space walk, and were getting out of their suits and going back into the space station.
The map in the center of the large screen tracks the progress of the International Space Station as it orbits around the Earth.
This room is designated to become the Mission Control Room for the Orion Missions to Mars in the future . . . that’s pretty cool!
As we were getting back on the tram, I noticed these two old-looking bikes parked next to the building.
As we continued driving around the Space Center grounds, our tour guide was pointing out the different buildings, and she mentioned the bikes, which were parked outside just about every building. She said they were donated by Schwinn to the JSC in 1969 so that the employees and astronauts could get around the campus easily. There’s a whole fleet of them, and these 50-year-old bikes are still being maintained and used around the campus today!
At the end of our tour, our tram stopped at the Saturn V Building,
and Rocket Park.
We were hoping to get back in time to catch the last tour time for the Astronaut Training Center, so we quickly made our way into the Saturn V Building to look at the big rocket. Had we been thinking, we should have just stayed on the tram and gone back for the other tour, because we could have seen the rockets at the end of that tour . . . but we obviously weren’t thinking.
Oh well . . . we went inside . . . WOW!
That’s a big rocket! It was the last Saturn V rocket ever built, and it was never used.
You don’t want to be that close when those fire up!
We just missed getting on the next tram going back, so we weren’t going to be able to make it on the last tour. We were bummed at first, but then decided that if we went on the tour we wouldn’t get to see any of the other exhibits, so it was for the best.
The large center room of the museum has lots of interactive displays, mostly geared towards kids, so we skipped those and went right to the Starship Gallery.
There were many displays representing the progression of space travel.
Life onboard a spaceship in the 1960s. . .
and now on the International Space Station.
From the Starship Gallery, we walked through the Lunar Vault,
where we saw lots of samples of moon rocks, and even got to touch one!
There’s a lot of research going into studying the moon!
Moon Boots – they were all the rage when I was a kid!!
Our last stop for the day was Independence Plaza,
where they have Space Shuttle replica Independence is mounted on top of the original NASA 905 shuttle carrier aircraft.
The inside of the space shuttle shows where the astronauts traveled in the front area of the spacecraft,
while the majority of the space was used for cargo, like this giant satellite.
It was very cool to get an up-close look at the shuttle, even if it was just a replica – it looked very real!
Inside the 747 – the shuttle carrier aircraft – there were displays showing how the aircraft was developed and fine-tuned to be able to carry the shuttle on its back. It was a very important job, and saved NASA lots of time and money getting the shuttles from California to Florida after every flight.
It was a fun and interesting day, and we wish we had gotten there a little earlier so that we could have fully explored all the exhibits.