The Johnson Space Center

On June 7, 2003 I went with my father and stepmother to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. (Click on thumbnails for full-sized images.)

Jet out front Me and Dad posing in front of the jet Dad and Cindy posing in front of the jet   Dad knew what kind of jet it was parked out front of the building even before reading the sign, but I can't recall what it was.  Judging by the torn-up concrete just in front of the plane, it may have been a new addition.

Animatronic tarantula Animatronic tarantula Animatronic mantis
Upon entering, we were greeted by Shelob and a guest villain from the first season of Buffy.  I had no idea what a giant animatronic tarantula and mantis had to do with space exploration -- but the entry hall was pretty much designed as a kiddie wonderland.  Disappointing for the adults...

 Shuttle lander Shuttle lander
The more so since we couldn't figure out how to get the shuttle landing simulator to work.  We didn't bother trying any of the other simulator games available after that.

Shuttle cockpit
But the shuttle mockup we were allowed to climb up into was interesting. Here's the view of the cockpit.

The tram tour of the facilities was pretty decent:

Saturn rocket Saturn rocket Saturn rocket Saturn rocket
This was a disassembled Saturn rocket set up on the grounds of the facility.  It had a separate entrance from the main center and we were told it was open to the public.  Unfortunately, we were on the second-to-last tram tour of the day, so we didn't get to wander amongst the rockets on our trip.  But we got a pretty good view driving past...

Mission Control Mission Control Mission Control and the red phone
This was the first destination on the tram tour:  the Apollo-era Mission Control room -- or rather, the green one, there being a brown one on a lower floor of the building. Computer technology at the time being what it was, they had to change the computers out for every mission and so when one control room was being reassembled they would use the other one. The third picture shows a red phone in the bottom right corner -- which was a direct line to the White House.

Training room Training room Training room Training room Training room Training room
In this room astronauts practiced with mockups of the shuttle and of the remote manipulating arm popularly known as the "Canada arm" (referring to its country of manufacture).  The large cylinders scattered around on the right side of the room (shown in the first four pictures) are facsimile space station modules for practice assembly for the International Space Station.  The long white banners hanging from the back wall represent the different space agencies cooperating on the space station effort -- Brazilian, Canadian, European, Japanese, and Russian, if I recall correctly, in addition to NASA.  The large dark banner towards the center serves as a backdrop for a scale model of the fully-assembled space station. (The station model is best visible in the second picture, although it showed up particularly well in none of them.  The solar panels of the station model can be seen on the left edge of the fourth picture.)

Thus endeth our day visiting NASA.  We came away from it with nifty space pens, strung on rainbow lanyards and with built-in lights that are programmed to give every possible color permutation three colored bulbs can provide, up to and including a slow automatic tour of the color spectrum. (Dad joked about us having joined the Rainbow Coalition.) There was also an interesting security precaution before getting onto the tram ride:  every party had to pose for photos (presumably so that if anyone ditched the tour security would have a photo to search with) -- so they turned it into another ploy for cash by having each group pose in front of a space-suited mannequin and then having $20 packages of two 6x8s and a keychain ready and waiting when the tram returned to the center.  Dad sprung for the package and sent me home with one of the photos, so I can preserve for posterity the effects of a flash on a complexion that has been avoiding daylight for the past year.  I glow like a ghost in the photo.  I'd scan it in if the scanner weren't such a massive pain to hook up and didn't give such horrible image quality besides.  I was tempted by the space monkeys they had in the gift shop but A) am not really a major stuffed animal fan and B) was conserving funds, so settled for a few postcards to put on my wall (earth, sun, moon, Neptune, and the full moon as seen from the upper atmosphere) and a few more to send.  Which I wrote out with my nifty new pen...

In closing, we determined that the Johnson Space Center is overpriced (at $20+ per adult) and just doesn't have that much to offer adults who aren't massive space program geeks.  But kids should have a blast.

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