A visit to Houston is not complete without a visit to NASA at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Centre. Unfortunately, one of its features is quite representative of Houston, in that it really can only be accessed by car. The Space Centre has a visitors’ area and tours, but is mainly where rocket scientists do their work, astronauts train and from where numerous space mission are controlled. The campus is sufficiently large, that there are grazing fields for the Texas Longhorns between the buildings.
Much of its website gives the impression of being a children’s attraction, grouping the different attractions into age-groups. The displays are mostly the actual items which have travelled to space and back or are being used in NASA’s work, so I consider it a very adult friendly venue as well. You will encounter children there, however if you have any interest in space or science or engineering you will enjoy the visit as an adult.
When you go on the tram tour taking you between buildings with exhibits open to the public, you can’t help wondering what science and engineering, design and testing is going on inside all the other buildings you pass.
The first stop is Saturn V, built to propel Apollo 18 into space. Apollo 18 never went, so the rocket never fired and is now on view to the public. You don’t even need to go to the rest of the museum, this section ‘Rocketpark’ is free to visit if you enter the grounds through Saturn Drive off NASA Parkway.
The next stop is the mission control building. Real life ISS mission control was taking place on one of the floors of the building, although most of the rest of NASA was on furlough while I visited. An upper floor is a National Historic Landmark, mission control as used right up to 1992. This is taken from the observation room from which dignitaries (including Presidents and Queen Elizabeth II) watched the mission controllers doing their work.
The last stop is the training, research and development area. NASA has replicas of each of the sections of the International Space Station which are used for training astronauts about to travel to the ISS as well as ensuring scientific test equipment properly fits into what is already in orbit around the earth. They are currently working on the Orion project, hoping to transport humans to Mars and have prototypes of capsules and rovers to be used on Mars.
The continued work being carried out by NASA here in Houston and at its other locations means this is an always changing experience. In 2012 a full size shuttle replica arrived at the Johnson Space Centre and the Boeing 747 shuttle carrier plane is now also on the campus. Its exhibit space is under construction and due to open in 2015.
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