Johnson Space Center

Lobby with Lunar Lander mockup

Lobby with Lunar Lander mockup

Apollo control room

Apollo control room

Mars Rover

Mars Rover

I used our day in League City to travel about 5 miles to the Space Center museum, adjacent to the Johnson Space Center. The Space Center is both a welcome center for tours of the Johnson Space Center and a museum containing some very interesting artifacts of US space exploration.

When I got to the Space Center I immediately took a tour of the Johnson Space Center because I really wanted to see where our space program was based. I wasn’t disappointed. The 90-minute tram tour made 3 stops:

  1. The “Historic Mission Control” center – the control room for the Apollo 11 mission to the moon and the first walk on the moon.  This is where the “one small step for man” words were first heard.  It is also the room where the Apollo 13 near-disaster was managed (see the Apollo 13 movie).  It was smaller than I had imagined and, of course, the technology looked ancient.  But it is a historic place and I am glad I got a chance to be there. It was also interesting to learn that the control room for the International Space Station – in communication 24/7 with the astronauts on the ISS – was just down the hall.
  2. The “mock up” building where mock-ups of current and future space vehicles are kept.  The building currently houses a full-scale mock-up of the International Space Station, a prototype of the Martian Rover and several prototypes of trans-Mars modules. I was not aware that so much work was underway for a manned Mars mission. This building is used for training current astronauts – both those heading to the ISS and those training for a Mars mission – and for engineering solutions to problems that crop up in the ISS.  This is also the building where solutions to the Apollo 13 problems were concocted.
  3. The Saturn V building.  This huge hanger houses an actual Saturn V rocket – one of the largest rockets ever built and the rocket that sent the Apollo missions to the moon.  It is, of course, incredibly large.  The fact that it exists at all after the termination of the Apollo program was a surprise to me.  This particular rocket was the one that would have been used for the Apollo 18 mission, had that mission not been canceled.  I doubt that a Saturn V exists anywhere else, so I was really thrilled to get to see this one.

The Space Center also had some interesting attractions:

  • “Independence Plaza” with an actual 747 that was used to transport the Space Shuttle, with a mock-up of the Space Shuttle Independence mounted on its back.  They were both open for viewing and contained some interesting kid-friendly displays that showed how the piggyback transport was put together and how NASA came to decide to use this odd transport vehicle.
  • A moon rock that could be touched.  I found this a bit disappointing as the rock was a flat shiny black tile-like artifact that didn’t look at all as I expected.  I expected something rough and other-worldly.
  • The Apollo 11 and Apollo 17 command modules.
  • One of the Gemini capsules.
  • A Mercury capsule.
  • A whole room of space suits worn by our astronauts.
  • A mock-up of the Lunar Lander.
  • Several theaters that offered several films and live presentations.  I went to just one – a film about our manned Mars mission.

I spent about 4 hours at the Space Center and felt that I really rushed it.  If you get to Houston, try to stop by this place.  It will be well worth your time.

Even better if you take your kids. There weren’t a lot of kids there when I visited on Tuesday afternoon, but the ones that were there looked like they were having a grand time.

I hope I can get back here for another visit the next time I get to Texas.

Soyuz mockup

Soyuz mockup

Apollo 11 command module

Apollo 11 command module

ISS mockup

ISS mockup

Saturn V

Saturn V

Moon rock vault

Moon rock vault

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