Visiting LBJ Space Center in Houston, TXpe
I arrived in Houston, TX on Friday afternoon around 12:50pm. FYI…That was about 30min earlier than our scheduled arrival (thank you Southwest). I ate lunch with Steve and his wife, Jackie, at a really good cajun place called Floyd’s. In case you were wondering….or care at all….I got the half crawfish etoufee/half fried crawfish tails plate. Like that old cajun Justin Wilson used to say, “It’s Wondermous!”
Anyway, Steve and I decided to visit the Lyndon B Johnson Space Center (JSC). Steve and I grew up in Birmingham, AL. We were only 45 minutes away from the Huntsville Space & Rocket Center which is home to NASA’s SpaceCamp (popularized in the 1986 movie of the same name). Steve and I have both taken school and family trips to see the Huntsville Space & Rocket Center and I’ve always thought it was cool. Because of this, I really liked the idea of seeing the main headquarters of NASA located in Houston. JSC is historic in that Mission Control for NASA shuttle launches was held here from 1965 all the way up until 1996. I love NASA and the whole nostalgia/patriotism that comes with dreamy recollections of space travel in the ’50s and ’60s (as portrayed in movies, because I don’t personally remember the ’50s and ’60s despite what my brother says about my age).
So we get there and immediately walk into a movie about building and living on the International Space Station. It was a very cool movie that went into the logistics of building the space station and what the astronoauts living and working on it have to endure. It was created by the discovery channel so I believe you might be able to catch it on cable. If not, click on the image to the left and it’ll take you to the Amazon page where you can buy it. It’s fascinating what goes into the designing and then training of the astronauts for such a large endeavor (16 countries are cooperating to build the Space Station).
Next, we decided to hit the money shot for the Space Center, its Tram Tour. This is where you tour the grounds and enter a few of the buildings that house NASA facilities, past and present. The tram was like any other you’d see at Universal Studios or Disney. The driver, though, must have been from New York because she took a few of the turns on two wheels. The place was kinda dead because it was after 5pm but she was driving like we were being chased by the cops. While clinging to whatever we could get our hands on with a death grip, the tram speakers played scratchy audio from astronauts and other people about NASA. The grounds are pretty unassuming. The buildings are labeled with a giant number and everything looks like some small college campus in the Midwest. Personally, I think that adds to the charm. Our first building stop was #30 – Historic Mission Control.
From 1965 to 1996 this was the heart of NASA. All the shuttle launches were monitored from this location, including the first moon landing (Apollo 11) along with the events depicted in the movie Apollo 13. They even showed us the booth where Jim Lovell’s wife talked to him over a comm link before they thought he could make it back. Pretty powerful stuff. I was amazed at how small the whole room is. We sat in an observation room looking down on Mission Control and it just seemed tiny. Another fascinating aspect is the technology in the room. There are rotary dial telephones on the consoles. Since this was before widespread email, they used pneumatic tubes (like The Shadow!) to send messages to other buildings. I didn’t know this, but there is also a sister room to this Mission Control and it’s located on the floor below it. It’s just amazing the history you can feel walking around this building.
After our too short time at Mission Control we headed over to the Space Station Training and Mockup Facility. It is in this building that astronauts train on hardware used in an actual shuttle launch. There is a full scale model of the space shuttle (without wings) for astronauts to train with. They also have mockups of different shuttle sections for specific training exercises. Also in this facility is a full scale mockup of completed sections of the International Space Station. Astronauts train extensively in the tight quarters becoming familiar with hardware and the station’s orientation. Very, very cool. Check out this link to see pictures from the training facility. It was a big as two football fields.
We were told about, but, unfortunately, not shown, the Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL). Click here to see a pic of it. It’s a large water tank used for submersing astronauts to train them in a near-weightless environment. This lab was featured prominently during a scene in the movie Armageddon. This, along with several other buildings, are toured on a special VIP tour called the Level 9 tour. When I come back to Houston with my wife we are going back and doing the Level 9 tour. It’s a little pricey, but I’ve read it’s completely worth it.
After this the tour was pretty much over. The Space Center was closing in a bout 20 minutes so I mosied around the gift shop and got a cool shirt (image is at the start of this article) with the NASA logo. I also found a Space Pen. Behold the magnificent glory of the Space Pen.
All in all, this was a kick ass activity. I’m glad we did it. Like I said earlier, when I come back to visit Steve & Jackie with my wife, we are going on the Level 9 tour. Period. You hear me, Steph? I HAVE SPOKEN. Anywho, if you ever make it to H-Town, check out the Houston Space Center. It’s awesome.
I’ll put up some more stuff we are doing in the next few days. We went to a cool area called the Kemah Boardwalk that is just kick ass so look for that. I’ll be at a Houston Astros game on Saturday and then Saturday night we will do something, I’m not sure yet. Keep your eyes peeled.