A few weeks ago, my Liftoff host and the cool guy Jason Snell told me to be in Houston, Texas and asked a question if I couldn't say no to:  Want to visit Johnson?
The Johnson Space Center is a central hub of NASA's network of centers across the country. When an astronaut calls the ground with the prefix "Houston," Johnson is home to the respondent.
Today, Johnson is home to much more than mission control. It is Ground Zero for astronaut training thanks to two international space station facilities, and is critical in NASA's commercial crew program. This program will orbit American astronauts for the first time since the shuttle program ended in 201
Visiting Johnson was a lot of fun, and it's accessible to everyone thanks to Space Center Houston, a nonprofit 501 (c) (3) dedicated to teaching the public about space and space exploration.
Space Center Houston is home to several amazing pieces of hardware, including the winged Mercury 9, Gemini 5 and Apollo 17 capsules:
I have seen several examples of each of these spacecraft before, and I really respect the guys who flew into the unknown in these vehicles. The Mercury capsule probably felt like climbing into a washing machine.
Space Center Houston also has a training car from the Lunar Rover program. I love this piece of hardware from the Apollo era, and it was a real treat to see this example up close:
The center also houses the Skylab training module, which was built by an empty Saturn V rocket scene . Skylab served as America's first space station, spending six years orbiting the Earth and hosting three crews.
There are exhibits dedicated to lunar mountains brought back by the Apollo crews, how space suits have evolved over the years and even a small corner about famous "lunar bells."
Outside sits an original shuttle, which started life as a Boing 747 before it was purchased by NASA and redeveloped to carry the space shuttle on its back:
[19659004TheshuttlemountedtoSCCAerkalt Independence and is a copy, but still impressive to approach. There are stairs leading to the side of the craft, and stepping in was surprising. In 2015 I got to see Atlantis up close, but going in was a whole different experience. The shuttle was truly a worldwide pickup. most of the craft is dedicated to the large cargo bay. The crew quarters were actually very tight, confined to the front of the vehicle.
The next day Snell and I went on optional "Level 9" tour. Although expensive, I thought it was worth the money. We spent most of the day with a small group of 10 or other guests and were led by a guide who was simply fantastic. It was clear to me that she knew her stuff, and while a few comments were a little outdated – mostly around NASA's ever-sliding schedules – it was easy to forgive.
We started at the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility, which is basically a warehouse with a full-size model of ISS under the roof, which allows astronauts to train for missions and experiments housed in the orbiting outpost:
For to train for spacewalks outside the station, crews work in NASA's Neutral Buoyancy Lab, which is a giant pool with various modules at the bottom. Astronauts are preparing for months here, with gravity counteracted by the water itself and an ingenious crane system. I have always been fascinated by this facility and it did not disappoint. During these bubbles, NASA work really took place!
Johnson is home to one of the three remaining Saturn V rockets left after the Apollo program was completed. I have now seen all three, previously been to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and to Huntsville's Marshall Space Center. The two rockets are lifted in their buildings so visitors can go under them, but the Houston example is ground level, and I think it feels even more impressive because of that:
Before I came to Houston, I thought the Neutral Buoyancy Lab would be the highlight of my trip, but I was wrong because we had to go into the recently renovated Apollo Mission Control. I can't do the feelings I had when we went into some justice here, so I would simply give this link about the renovation and share some of my photos.
Apollo Mission Control is sacred due to many space nerds, and it was wonderful to spend some time in the room where the work of 400,000 people gathered in a single room to answer a radio call from heaven.