There is a place where amazing things happen every day, where men and women dream up ideas to further explore the depths of our universe and then implement plans to see those dreams come to fruition. A place where you don’t just talk about the next frontier, you reach out and touch it. The Johnson Space Center is the central nervous system for NASA operations. It can be toured daily but it is much more than an exhibit for visitors, it is a fully functioning workplace for thousands of people. This is where actual rocket scientists go to work!
Located in Houston, TX the Johnson Space Center has something for everybody and covers the history of the United States space program in great detail. The main museum area is filled with exhibits and hands on areas that kids will absolutely flip over. I had enough trouble containing my own excitement and I’m 37 years old!
The space center offers three different tram tours which are guided tours that take you into the actual space center where work/training is actively taking place. We did two of the three tours, the first of which took us to the actual Mission Control Center that was used during the Apollo missions. You get to hear about what went on in the MCC during some of the missions, which political and royal figures sat in the observation seats that are now used for tour seating (the Queen sat in the seat right in front of Jen). And you also get to see the American Flag that was actually flown on the moon.
Interesting note, the very first and very last word transmitted to Houston from the moon and heard in this MCC was the word “Houston”.
Photo op with Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin…couldn’t resist! They’re looking good for their age!
The tram tour heads back towards the main museum but first drops you off at Rocket Park. Really! Rocket Park…! I don’t care what is on display, when you come to a stop called Rocket Park you check it out. The largest rocket on display is the Saturn V rocket. Laid on its side it rests inside a building that could easily fit a football field. This exhibit lets you get up close and personal with the F-1 engine, five of which powered this massive rocket. The scale is overwhelming. (If the pics are a little fuzzy, click on them for a clear image)
Took us at least two full minutes to get this pic and it still isn’t right…I blame the photographer (and no it is not a selfie).
One of the newest exhibits at the main museum building is the piggy-back 747/shuttle. The shuttle was a replica of the real deal used for space travel.
They needed a more economical way to transport the shuttle from its build/prep location to its launch location. If they used the same methods as rocket transport in the past (oversized loads on the road) it would have been waayyyy too expensive. So they figure, what the heck, let’s marmoset this thing up and throw the shuttle on the back of a 747 so we can fly it…! That is some gutsy engineering right there. I used to get a little queasy sizing steel beams for buildings…I can’t imagine running the numbers on something like this!
The “timed” tickets were all sold out for this so we just waited in the first come, first serve line and were able to gain entry in less than 20 minutes. You head to the top to enter the shuttle first which is two levels, then you move down to the 747 level before exiting the exhibit.
The cockpit was about what I expected…buttons and knobs everywhere you look…
The rest of the shuttle was surprisingly underwhelming, and I don’t mean that in a negative way. I expected it all to be crazy gauges, buttons and screens. But in reality you need things to be as simple as possible when you’re working in zero gravity hundreds of miles above the earth’s surface. And you need EVERYTHING to have a place and be in its place so it doesn’t float away, so a lot of the shuttle was little compartments with their doors closed…
Air lock vestibule door, might want to keep that one closed…
Despite the years of intense training, astronauts still have to use the restroom…
This is the main cargo bay, the shiny panels on top are doors that open up entirely to allow large pieces of equipment to be delivered or picked up.
The cargo bay now functions as exhibit space with various information boards
Timeline of ferry flights over the years…
The 747 was gutted as much as possible during service so it would be light enough to accommodate the added weight of the space shuttle. Other modifications were done to the 747 including tail wing mods among others. The 747 offers ample space for museum exhibits and fun facts now…
For the gear heads out there that love engines, the three space shuttle main engines generate the equivalent of 37,000,000 horsepower…yikes!
It was a strange feeling touring the shuttle with the knowledge that the shuttle program is done; no more shuttles going into space. It was a great run while it lasted for an incredibly versatile aircraft.
Our second tram tour took us through the astronaut training center which includes replicas of the types of living quarters and working environments the astronauts will encounter in space.
This is also where astronauts train on the robots and rovers that they will be using in space
I have to admit, I thought this area was cool, but it was rather ordinary if I’m being honest. I couldn’t get my mind around the fact that the next time the astronauts would be using these gadgets, etc. they would actually be IN SPACE. For some reason I expected the rover to have a football sized building all to itself with foam pyramids over every square inch of the walls so you could hear a pin drop…not the case. It’s basically a room full of space toys for these folks to figure out before we strap them to a rocket and send them skyward. Not for the faint of heart.
Other exhibits in the museum cover different missions over the years, as well as what life is like for the astronauts as they orbit this beautiful planet….or it orbits them…whatever. And you also get to touch an actual rock from the moon! Surprisingly smooth.
We also took in an IMAX video the museum offered, one of many offered during the course of the day. Our movie was on the current planning going on for the mission to Mars – it’s a three year mission…six months to get there, two years on the rock, and six months to get home – they’re hoping to be ready to go sometime in the 2030’s. Apparently there have already been more than one thousand volunteers who would live on Mars indefinitely.
We easily spent an entire day at Johnson Space Center and didn’t get to do everything they had to offer. It is an easy museum to visit, navigate, and enjoy. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure it out.
I’ll leave you with some of the t-shirts that I came across in the gift shop on our way out. I’m 1/3 nerdy engineer (maybe more depending who you ask) so maybe everyone won’t find these as funny as I did. I think NASA does a lot of things well, t-shirts just may be their forte.
And you can’t go wrong with a tip of the hat to Poison…
- The museum is open every day of the week
- Adult admission is $24.95, kids 4-11 are $19.95, kids 0-3 are free
- We were able to get a coupon at the RV Park we stayed at for $5.00 off per adult admission. We stayed at the Space Center RV Park which is roughly 15 minutes from the museum.