Whether you were a child of the ’60s and remember the Apollo moon landing, grew up in the ’80s, and can recall watching as the first Space Shuttle launched into space, or dream of one day living on Mars, Space Center Houston is a must-see for anyone who comes to Houston.
As I had mentioned in the post, Journey To The Stars At Space Center Houston, Charlie had never been to the Center despite being a native Texan and growing up in Houston. I had the opportunity to visit in July with my brother and nephew but there was still so much more that I wanted to see.
Our tour started out in the main entrance of the Center, Starship Gallery, where work was being done on a new interactive exhibit slated to open on November 2, 2019. Called “Playing with Light”, I’m sure it’s going to be a fun and exciting exhibit for all ages. Considering the number of light bulbs on the display that was suspended, I can only imagine how bright it is going to be.
We then made our way to the Lunar exhibit which I’m sure is one of the most popular right now considering the Center is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first man on the moon. Since I was only 4 when it happened, yes I’m giving away my age, I’ll be honest and tell you that I know little about it. As we made our way through the exhibit, we learned that while some of the displays are replicas, others are the same ones that went to the moon, and back. That grabbed my attention!
From the lunar rover that astronauts used in training to the actual Skylab trainer, it was like taking a walk back in time. As we stood there reading all about the moon landing and the various items on display, it was almost like being on the moon looking back at the earth.
As we made our way from the lunar exhibit and into the Skylab trainer, I noticed something moving out of the corner of my eye. When I looked up, there was a “man” doing summersaults in mid-air. At first, I jumped a bit and then I realized it was a display of how they trained and the effects of anti-gravity. Of course, Charlie thought it was quite funny, go figure!
Here’s a fun fact! While we see stars every night in the skies above Earth, there are no stars in photos of Earth from the Moon, why? Well, because the reflection of the sun off the moon is so strong that it washes out the brightness of the stars. Also, the camera that Neil Armstrong used did not use a long enough exposure time to capture them. Try taking a picture of the moon sometime and you’ll see what I mean.
Everywhere we looked, including up, there were pieces of history and reminders of just how monumental that time in history was, not only to Americans but the world. Even touching a piece of moon rock, we felt like we had lived it with them, even if we didn’t.
Another part of the lunar exhibit is the moon rock and lunar sample vault. Space Center Houston houses the largest collection of moon rocks and lunar samples on display for public view in the world. As we entered the vault, the sheer size of the door was a reminder of just how valuable the items inside were. While what’s on display at the Center is only a small sample of what is held at another location, it is nonetheless impressive.
After spending time learning all about the missions to the moon, we were off to see the exhibit that we both could relate too a little better, the Space Shuttle. Independence Plaza is a permanent exhibit that stands 8 stories tall and is quite impressive. While there is an elevator available for those who may need it, the stairs are the primary way to get to the various levels of the exhibit. It’s a definite leg and cardio workout so if you have physical limitations, we recommend taking the elevator.
Since we both grew up in the ’80s, we could definitely identify with this exhibit. The one thing I wasn’t ready for was the massive size of the jet and shuttle. Growing up seeing the shuttle on TV, I don’t think either of us really grasped how huge the shuttle was until we were standing beside it.
While the shuttle is only a replica, once inside we really got a feel for what astronauts had to contend with. From the cramped cockpit to the 3 hours it took to get into their spacesuits, nothing was easy. At least the cockpit seats were normal and they didn’t have to lie on their backs the whole time.
It was such a cool experience to be able to see inside what a shuttle would have been like and what the astronauts had to go through. From the gear they had to wear to the cradle that held satellites they flew into space, it sort of took me back to my teenage years and the height of the shuttle program.
While the shuttle was impressive, I must say that the jet carrying it or Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) was even more so for me. What once started as a passenger 747, the massive jet was renamed NASA 905 after it was converted for the shuttle program. The jet we got to go inside is one of the actual jets that were used to transport the shuttle. The inside is filled with multiple exhibits that gave us a glimpse into the history of the shuttle program. From interactive displays to what the plane looked like in first class before it was gutted for the shuttle missions, we really felt like the shuttle program was coming alive in front of us.
Standing under the jet, we got a real understanding of just how big it is. To stand there and be able to touch something that had such a huge impact on the history and growth of manned space travel was a wonderful treat. Along the side of the plane, we could see all the shuttle transport missions the jet flew along with the names of the crew.
Once we finished reliving our youth at Independence Plaza, we made our way back to Starship Gallery to get our tickets for what I knew would undoubtedly be one of Charlie’s favorite parts of the visit.
The Center currently offers two different tram tours that are included in the price of admission, how great is that? We opted to take the tour of the Johnson Space Center and the Apollo Control Room. While the tour is free, it is timed and limited in space so we decided to get tickets for the first tour.
We boarded our tram and made our way along the road leading up to Johnson Space Center, passing Rocket Park, home to the Saturn V rocket, Longhorn cattle (you can read about them in the other post), the Orion control room and operations center, even some deer. Even though we didn’t take the tour that included Rocket Park, I had taken it with my brother and nephew earlier in the year and I will say it is quite impressive.
Inside the Saturn V building, there is an actual rocket on display in sections that really make it easy to understand how the rockets work and what it took to get them into space. We also got to see every mission banner for each mission that the Saturn V flew.
Along our way, we learned about the history of Space Center Houston and the Johnson Space Center, why there are Longhorn cattle grazing on the property, and how the property became what it is today.
Once we arrived at Johnson Space Center and entered the mission control building, our guide reminded us that while we would be touring the Apollo Mission Control room, we were still in a working building and that just down the hall from where we would be standing were people communicating with the crew of the International Space Station – can you say MIND BLOWN!
Once we made it to Mission Control, (it’s an 87 stair climb but they do have an elevator for those who need it) we learned that not only was this the actual Mission Control and gallery but it had been visited by every sitting American President from LBJ to George W. Bush. Even Queen Elizabeth had visited the gallery on a trip to the U.S.
This was also the same gallery where family members would sit during the missions and often times be there in the very early hours of the morning to get away from the media who were often times camped out at their homes. In fact, when the movie Apollo 13 was being made, this room was used to ensure that the movie version was as accurate as possible.
As we listened to the communications, we watched as the consoles and screens lit up and displayed the exact images from that memorable moment in history. It was so cool to watch the monitors and screens and listen as the spacecraft landed on the moon and Neil Armstrong took that step in history. Given the fact that we were too young back then to remember the Moon landing, it was as if we were taking part in it, decades later.
Fun Fact – The flag flying on the top of the Mission Control Center flies at all times as long as America has a man, or woman, in space. This particular flag will have been flying for 19 consecutive years in November 2019.
After we made our way back to Starship Gallery, the main building of Space Center Houston, we toured the International Space Station exhibit, the Moon Walkers art exhibit, and strolled along the Astronaut Gallery wall that contains photos of astronauts and mission crews of every manned mission to space.
Fun Fact – We have a patch from when Charlie was a conservation officer that actually went to the Hubble space telescope on a Shuttle mission and we found the mission crew picture at the Space Center from the same mission. Pretty cool huh?
There is so much to explore at Space Center Houston, one day just didn’t seem like enough. We will definitely make a trip back, especially since they are in the process of building the display for the upcoming Space X Falcon 9 exhibit.
Whether you remember the Apollo moon landing, the launch of the Shuttle program, or just have a natural curiosity about all things space, a visit to Space Center Houston is a must. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a space nerd or not, Space Center Houston is still a great place to visit and learn all about our journey into the stars.
While we were hosted by Space Center Houston for the day, the opinions expressed are our own.