Houston, we have a crowd

One thing Katy wanted to do while we were in Texas was go to Space Center Houston. We decided it would be best to go on Friday and spend the night since we were flying out the next day. That way we didn’t have make any extra trips to or from Houston. I figured it was a weekday, Texas spring break was a couple of weeks earlier so we should have the place to ourselves unless there was a field trip. If Good Friday was a holiday when I lived in Texas I didn’t remember it. That place was packed.

We got there about 10:30 and went straight to the tram ride to Johnson Space Center. You had a choice of two tours. They both dropped you off at the rocket park but one toured the astronaut training facility while the other toured mission control. Katy picked the astronaut training area and we were hoping we’d have time later for mission control. We didn’t. And there were about four times as many people in line for astronaut training as for mission control.

Get in line here

On the way we passed a field full of Longhorn cows. It was part of some project by the Texas Livestock Show and Rodeo.

Cows and rockets. Only in Texas.

Our first stop was the astronaut training building. We viewed one room with mock-ups of various pieces of the shuttle, space station and some equipment to be used in Mars exploration.

To the right is the crew cabin of the space shuttle.
More shuttle to the left
I think this is a space station trainer. I liked the mission patches on the side.
"Charlotte" and a Space Exploration Vehicle (catchy name).

Charlotte is a spiderbot. She has antenna and can feel her way around smaller bodies like asteroids or comets. She has feet rather than wheels and can get to places wheeled vehicles can’t. Her feet have magnets on them so she can crawl around the inside of the space station, as well. The Space Exploration Vehicle is really neat. Two astronauts can live in it for up to 14 days. It can travel sideways and the cabin can “kneel” so the astronauts can get a close-up look at things without having to get out. Important when you’re on a planet with no gravity or oxygen.

The next stop on the Johnson tour was the rocket park.

Checking out the orbiter arm

This is the “jetway” the astronauts walk down to get into the shuttle. At the other end is the “white room” where they put on their pressure suits.

Next up was inside the Saturn V Complex. The rocket on display is made up of parts from various Saturn V rockets, but all parts were built and intended for use, none were intended just for training or exhibit. It’s been at the center since 1977 but was just sitting outside being neglected. It was finally restored and in 2007 got its own building.  At 363 feet long it was pretty difficult to get it all in one photo. My next camera is going to have a panoramic feature!

Third stage and Apollo capsule.
The back of stage 3

There were murals on the wall depicting the various Apollo missions.

Apollo 1
Apollo 1
Apollo 11

After wandering around the rocket park we caught the next available tram back to the museum. This tram had rows of seats facing each other and a lady facing us asked her friend “where are the launch pads?” I said “Florida”. I mentioned they had launch near the coast because the rockets fall into the ocean but they can land in different places. Katy jumped in with how they can land in Europe or Africa if there’s an abort. The ladies were pretty impressed. It was funny.

Back at the museum we walked through sort of a cross-section of a space shuttle.

What does this do?
Space toilet.

We went to a presentation on life in space. The space shuttle’s living and work area is made up of all these compartments that are interchangeable and can be arranged according to whatever is most convenient for the astronauts and the work being done. They had several compartments and showed how drawers, beds, kitchen area, etc., worked.

The person giving the talk explained that there was no shower on board, they use dry shampoo and lots of sponge baths. Then she showed a unit with a shower. It turns out that Skylab had a shower but the astronauts said it was hard to use, took too much time and they could have done without it. So there hasn’t been one since. She also showed the thing everyone is interested in — the space toilet. She explained how it worked and then showed a hose with a funnel on the end. She asked her astronaut helper (a kid from the audience) what he thought it was and he wasn’t taking a guess. She asked two more kids in the audience and they wouldn’t say, either. Katy waved her arm in the air and when called on announced “It’s to pee in”. Those other kids knew, they were just too embarrassed to say but Katy sure wasn’t!

One really neat exhibit was the Starship Gallery. When you walked in it was really dark with lots of stars and space scenery, I guess you’d call it.

Taken without the flash to show the stars.
Astronaut on a space walk
Lunar landing
Gemini 5 capsule.

There were several moon rocks on display and some information on how they are handled and examined. Since there is no oxygen or water on the moon they are kept in a 100% hydrogen environment. Except the sliver that you can touch.

Touching a moon rock
Real moon rocks

Also in this exhibit was the Skylab training module.

Astronaut hanging out.
That useless shower

The last activity of the day was hearing about plans for a mission to Mars. So far the plan is to send people to Mars sometime from 2030-2035. It’s a three-year trip and I don’t think three years sealed up in a capsule with no fresh air, sunshine, fresh food or clean clothes sounds like a very good idea to me. Katy was all interested in it, though.

We had a great day but we really need to go back. They are getting a new exhibit — a lifesize mock-up of a space shuttle that you will get to walk through and try everything out. The sign out front says it’s coming this spring, the guy doing the Mars program said this summer, but considering all they have right now is a sign and a pile of dirt I wouldn’t look for anything before next spring. We also didn’t make it to the astronaut gallery where they have all the space suits. I didn’t even see it on the map. So our next family trip to Texas we’ll have to make it a point to visit again.

3 thoughts on “Houston, we have a crowd

  1. I am very jealous of Ms. Katy! I have always wanted to visit JSC, but have never had a chance! Sounds like she learned a ton and doesn’t even need to come to Space Camp anymore! 😉 Remind the days of her visit again. How has the space book finding been going?

  2. I am very jealous of Ms. Katy! I have always wanted to visit JSC, but have never had the chance to. Maybe in the next few years. From the looks of it, she is learning a lot and maybe should not bother with Space Camp. 😉 Remind me again when she will be down here for camp. Hope she has found some books and websites to keep her exploring in the mean time! 🙂

  3. Katy will be at Space Camp June 10. I found several books for her at the library and she read those and right now is working on Do Your Ears Pop in Space. She’s doing a second space unit (mostly astronomy) at school right now. We also bought a game called Go For Launch. However, it assumes you know an awful lot about the Apollo and Gemini missions so we’ve just been playing with the shuttle cards. Rumor from Space Camp has it that it’s not out of the realm of possibility for the game that that teacher from “A Smile as big as the Moon” created to come back. That would be a great one to have.

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