Space Center, Houston

My interest in science and space has grown exponentially over the last few years. Science was one of those subjects that was beaten out of me at school and it’s taken a long while for me to really give it the time of day. Since I have, though, I’ve been fascinated, particularly developing a fledgling obsession with the moon. Over on Sidepodcast, we live commented some of the launch and landings of the space shuttle and its successors, and who can argue with an astronaut making a Rocket Man video in actual space?

So, when I learned I was going to Houston, there was one place I knew I would have to visit before I left. The Space Center.

It’s a visitor’s centre with exhibits and things to entertain, attached to real life NASA offices, where work is ongoing for the agency’s next exploration projects. We went on a Sunday, so I’m not convinced many people were actually on site that day, but it was fun to think we were right next door to rocket scientists and astronauts.

Like any good science attraction, the main body of the building was crammed with artefacts and entertainments. We didn’t really have time to investigate the simulator and theatres, mostly concentrating on the visual elements surrounding us, including: an incredible wall of crew photos, a glimpse into the cockpit of the space shuttle, and various space suits throughout the decades hoisted above our heads and in glass cabinets. What really hits home about the suit displays is that they’ve actually BEEN INTO SPACE.

There’s a tram tour with two destinations – mission control or astronaut training. Sadly, we only had time to do one, particularly as they keep you waiting in line to get on the little tour buggy train thing, and then keep you waiting until every single space is full as well. Choosing between them was easy, mission control every time, right?

When the buggy pulls away from the centre, it takes you round some of the offices, where you just think you’re in an industrial estate somewhere and it’s hard to believe that anything magical comes out of these buildings.

I specifically took a picture of building 17 because the tour guide said something exciting was going on in there. I can’t for the life of me remember what it is, so you’ll just have to take my/his word for it.

Rounding a final corner, you approach one of the buildings which is taller and far more special than the others.

When we walked through the door of the mission control room and saw the bank of screens ahead, I think almost every single person let out an audible gasp. This is where it all happens! I may have misheard someone saying that no missions have actually been controlled from this room yet, it’s a future project space, which took the sheen off it a little bit, but even so. I immediately thought of Mr C, with so many screens on so many desks you could watch anything and everything!

We had a thirty minute chat from a young NASA guy who was essentially trying to convince everyone that the organisation still has a place, still has important work to do, despite the fact the shuttle programme has ended. He talked in brief about their plans for future missions into space, and of course that they’re working with others on the space station.

On the way back, the tour stops off at what they call Rocket Park. It has some rockets scattered around in the grass, but it’s the building that really impresses. On the way in, we saw a Saturn V painted on the side of this building and thought, hey, that’s a cool drawing.

After looking at the rockets, we headed to the nearest door in the hopes of finding some air conditioning and we absolutely weren’t expecting to find the actual enormous, humungous rocket to be there, on its side, from pointy end to rocket exhausts. I snapped a couple of pictures but it’s so hard to capture the scope of this thing, they just don’t do it justice.

It was fun to see the part where the humans go, the bit that has been touched by the sea and started rusting. Space isn’t an easy ride, people!

After walking round the entire rocket, we headed back to the centre. There was only time for a quick gift shop stop. I love a gift shop on a normal day, so it wasn’t a surprise to find I had to be dragged out of this one. I picked up some good bits and pieces though.

Part of me wishes there had been more time to do both tours and experience more in the actual visitor centre itself, but ultimately I couldn’t be happier with the visit. And Mr C got his astronaut ice cream, so I think he’s happy too.