I am totally and utterly in love with outer space; and I have been since I was in the 6th grade. Anything and everything about space makes me act like a little kid in a candy shop. So I figured I would do whatever it took to visit Johnson Space Center…or at least the visitor center for it, which is Space Center Houston.
Aside from just being able to explore everything inside and watch the fun science demonstrations, with your ticket you’ll also be able to walk around Independence Plaza which houses the Independence orbiter and her Boeing 747 shuttle carrier aircraft and you’ll also be able to take an open-air tram tour of Johnson Space Center. Both of these are weather permitting events so if you go on a somewhat rainy day (like I did), one or both of these maybe closed for the time being. Fortunately I was able to go see Ms. Independence and all of her amazingness, but unfortunately I was unable to avoid the weather to tour Johnson 😦 .
When you first walk into the Space Center, it can seem a little overwhelming – but hey, space can be overwhelming sometimes. In the middle of the first floor is the Main Plaza where they have hands-on science learning. I know that a lot of science centered museums have similar things, but my favorite part was the spirograph. I thought this was really cool because it showed how gears work and taught the beginnings of circles, circumferences, and frequencies.
After exploring the science section, I started on the left side of the building and worked my way around. I began with the International Space Station (ISS). I mean, how awesome and amazing that we still have humans living in space?? In comparison to the other space museum I’ve explored (the Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama), I really liked the amount of information this exhibit had to offer. It showed what life is like on the ISS; from the kinds of food they eat, to their living areas, to even feeling what it’s like to move the storage areas of the station. Some people might be surprised at how (almost) normally the astronauts eat with foods like Rice Ball with Salmon or Waffles, but hey an astronauts gotta eat something other than mush!
Next, I walked around the Astronaut Galley which was super cool because they had the suits that Wally Schirra and Michael Collins wore on Apollo missions 7 and 11. They also had the suit that Sally Ride (the first American woman in space) wore on her first flight. Additionally, the entire back wall is dedicated every space crew that ever flew with pictures of each crew and all of the shuttle mission pins.
Also here, are 3 different artistic space suits as part of the “Space Suit Art Project” which is a collaboration between the University of Texas MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital’s Arts in Medicine Program, NASA, and space suit company ILC Dover. These spacesuits are composed of hundreds of canvasses that are hand-painted by pediatric cancer patients. (From left to right: Spacesuit Hope, Flight suit Courage – that was actually worn by astronaut Kate Rubins, and Spacesuit Unity.)
As I made my way to Mission Mars, I saw a model of the Orion capsule which is to hold 4 to 6 people on top of the Space Launch System.
While it may only be a model, how cool is that?!
As I left Earth and headed to Mars, I have to say that this set up of Mars was probably my favorite so far. Not only is it filled with facts and information about Mars, this exhibit tells you what it’s like on Mars and allows you to design your Mars space suit (with how well your suit would hold up too)! There’s also an area where you can stand on a Mars simulated scenery.
After I reluctantly returned to Earth, I walked around the Kids Space Zone – I’m a child at heart so it counts right? – where I weighed myself on Earth, Mars (38% of Earth’s gravity), Jupiter (2.4 times of Earth’s gravity), and Neptune (110% of Earth’s gravity). I also got to try and lift something that would be on the surface of those planets…and let me tell…it’s hard to lift stuff on Jupiter! On the second floor you can try your luck at driving around rovers on Mars surface (it’s harder than it looks y’all!) and even take your picture on Mars surface with directions to different areas of space.
Once I satisfied my inner child, I walked around the Starship Gallery; I worked it in a backwards form but there’s no right or wrong way to explore it. Here you can walk through a mockup of Skylab – the first space station – and only scare yourself twice with the mannequins they have around. In comparison to the US Space and Rocket Center, I have to say I quite enjoyed this display more. It allowed you to walk through Skylab rather than just stand in it, it also allows for you to feel like you’re an astronaut on board and moving from section to section. It was really, really cool. (While you’re back there, be sure to test your space knowledge at the quiz stations behind Skylab!) Sorry, no pictures here – you’ll have to check it out for your self!
As I continued on, I got to touch a piece of a Moon rock – how cool! – and I got to check out the behind-the-scenes of what they would do with the rocks they brought back from the moon.
In the continuation of my Starship Gallery exploration, I encountered some Moon walkers out doing work.
Here they also have the Apollo 17 Command Module, America, which held the last crew to leave the Moon. The final words to be spoken by the last man on the Moon, Eugene Cernan, were: “…we leave as we came, and God willing, as we shall return: with peace and hope for all mankind.” Doesn’t that just make you want to go back to the Moon and eventually explore Mars?!?
I interrupt this post to show you several pictures of another one of my favorite displays – a wall of a galaxy.
As I continued to walk the gallery backwards, I also walked back in history as I stumbled upon a Gemini capsule, a Mercury capsule (Faith 7 flown by Gordon Cooper), and a replica liquid-fueled rocket that Dr. Robert Goddard first launched in 1926.
The last stop on my adventure, but certainly not the least, Independence Plaza to go explore the Independence orbiter. Seriously guys, these pictures do not do it any justice; you have to see it for yourself. Also, this is the only orbiter and shuttle carrier aircraft (SCA) that you actually get to go inside of. For those who are wondering, Independence was originally named Explorer, and while it never actually went to space, many of its components have been.
While walking around the SCA, there’s so much information about why this was created and why it benefited NASA to use this. Additionally, it has tons of facts about the Space Shuttle history, some of my favorites included the total distance traveled, the amount of horsepower used, and how fast the shuttles went.
Next stop, Ms. Independence herself.
This is beautiful guys. You get to walk inside the cargo/payload bay which is where they’ll store all their cargo for the flight. Inside is a mockup of the kickmotor that allows for attachment on to satellites. I seriously just stood there, stared, and smiled for a good five minutes or so.
Next, I walked up to the flight deck which is where the crew will be during flight. The only seats left were the Captain and the Pilot. Honestly, this was one of the most amazing sights I’ve seen in my life. I could’ve have been there all day and I would have been perfectly happy.
Being able to walk around inside of the vehicle that I’ve admired since I was little was everything I could have dreamed of – for now.
Oh, obviously I hit up the gift shop to stock up on all my Johnson Space Center apparel 😉 . And I’ll definitely be going back because you can never have too much space in your life!
I hope that I gave you just enough to get you excited about potentially visiting Space Center Houston sometime soon because, at least for me, it was a wonderful experience and helped to create the perfect day for this aspiring astronaut.