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.)
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
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...
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.
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:
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...
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.
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
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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