A dream come true

Houston Travel Blog

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"Sam & Mira" on the Space Shuttle

Today was a dream come true.  We visited the Johnson Space Center on the special Level 9 tour.  I urge everyone to visit NASA and take this tour.  The only caveat is that all participants may not be under the age of 14.  Also, they take only 12 people per day and the tour is not operated on weekends.  It was worth every penny of the $80 per person it cost.  They even include lunch.

 

Unfortunately for me, I was not feeling well today.  Tummy problems had me running, if you get my drift!  I chalked it up to nerves and ignored as much of the discomfort as I could.

Bowen & Boe are assisted after their training session
  But what did I have to be nervous about?  Was I worried that we would be put in a real simulator and get crushed by gravity the way that horrifying space ride at Epcot did?  That was ridiculous.  Nerves can really play havoc with your body.  Our tour included lunch.  A lot of people really piled on the food, but my whole body was rejecting it.  I had a small salad, but I could not finish. 

 

Our first visit was to the Neutral Buoyancy Lab - the giant swimming pool where astronauts train for extra vehicular activities.  It was incredible.. absolutely huge!  It is something like 40 feet deep.  Our luck was perfect: two shuttle astronauts were training and we watched as they were brought out of the water and removed from those complex space suits.

Practice session at Mission Control
  It is quite an operation.  Their hair was wet from sweat, a sign of the incredible exertion they must put out.  It takes about 3 hours for them to be suited up and it took about 20 minutes to get them out.  The two men we saw were, I believe, Steve Bowen and Eric Boe and they will be flying on the Endeavor in November of this year. We learned that, of the two shuttles we saw on the pads at Kennedy Space Center, one was returned to the barn, so to speak.  STS 125, the mission to repair the Hubble Telescope, has been delayed until early in 2009.  STS 126, which the people are training for now, will actually go up first.

 

We next visited Mission Control where the engineers and officers were practicing for a shuttle launch.  It was all done as if it was the real thing.  Lights were blinking, panels were giving all of the required data, the people were working with their computers and everything was interesting.

View of the earth from the International Space Station
  We could not use flash photography when people were working.  From there we went to the control room for the International Space Station.  This was far more interesting as we could watch as astronaut Greg Chamitoff worked on repairing something - I cannot remember what.  There were real-time transmissions of the earth as the ISS passed by.  It is gorgeous and makes you truly appreciate our beautiful blue planet and vow to take better care of it.

 

One of the highlights of this tour was a visit to the original Mission Control for the Apollo missions to the moon.  It was a real thrill for me to sit at the console used by flight director Gene Kranz.  It is equally amazing to see just how far the program has progressed.  The panels were a series of buttons to be pushed.  There were no computer keyboards.

Shuttle trainer with bay doors open
  Even the telephones, or whatever, had rotary dials.  The Smithsonian  runs this area as a National Historical Monument.  Oh, the dreams I had about it when I was a young woman.

 

Our next stop was to view the training area with their full-sized mock-ups of the various parts of the space shuttle and the space station.  We were able to use flash photography, but not when any of the workers or shuttle crew were around.  In fact we were not allowed to photograph the shuttle crew at all.  We were lucky enough to see STS 126 Commander Chris Ferguson working and training.  The full-sized shuttle looked gigantic when seen indoors.  It is smaller than a Boeing 747, but one can only see that when it is on the top of the 747 being moved from California back to Florida.  There was a Soyuz spacecraft, used by the Russians to move men to and from the ISS.

"Sam & Mira" in front of Soyuz, the Russian space capsule
  Walking around these amazing machines made me feel really special.  Those people on the regular tours can only see some of these things from a catwalk high above. 

 

We went on to view the old Space Environment Simulation Lab - a giant vacuum chamber now in the process of being dismantled.  When I walked in, my mouth pretty much hit the floor - it is that huge!  The door alone is 40 feet in diameter and weighs 40 tons.  It is balanced so perfectly one person could close it.  Testing is done to determine how machines react to the extreme cold and/or heat of outer space.  Amazing!

 

Our last visit was to see the Saturn 5 rocket assembly with the original Apollo 18 capsule attached.

Gigantic door of Space Environment Simulation Lab (vacuum chamber)
  Like the rocket on display at Kennedy Space Center, this one is lying down.  This one has not been modified, or so it seemed.  It is separated into its various parts to indicate how it works.  The heat shield had pretty much been removed from the Apollo capsule, so it looked as if it had been through the rigors of re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.

 

This tour is difficult for me to describe.  It has been a very emotional experience for me.  I have followed the American space program since the very beginning.  I had watched every launch of Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and the shuttle until the explosion of Challenger.  Since then I have actually been afraid to watch for fear that tragedy would happen again. 

 

The tour lasted from 11:45 until almost 5 pm.

Looking towards top of Saturn V rocket
  We left as soon as it was over because the visitor center was closing.  We hit heavy traffic on the freeway as expected.  It is another reason I don’t like to visit cities.  We finally reached our motel, an Econo Lodge in the suburb of Pasadena.  Unlike the Pasadena in Southern California, this one is not beautiful - at least not where we are.  There are huge oil refineries surrounding us.  I must admit, though, how pretty these refineries look at night with all of their twinkling lights.  As I still am not feeling up to par, Jag and I had dinner at the nearby Denny’s coffee shop.  I ordered chicken soup.  The thought of solid food turned my stomach.  Although it was no where near as good as my Mother’s, it was soothing and filled me enough to take away the gurgling.  I am tired now, so I will say good night. 

 

 

 

 

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Sam & Mira on the Space Shuttle
"Sam & Mira" on the Space Shuttle
Bowen & Boe are assisted after the…
Bowen & Boe are assisted after th…
Practice session at Mission Control
Practice session at Mission Control
View of the earth from the Interna…
View of the earth from the Intern…
Shuttle trainer with bay doors open
Shuttle trainer with bay doors open
Sam & Mira in front of Soyuz, th…
"Sam & Mira" in front of Soyuz, t…
Gigantic door of Space Environment…
Gigantic door of Space Environmen…
Looking towards top of Saturn V ro…
Looking towards top of Saturn V r…
Georgina, our van driver
Georgina, our van driver
Brenda, our tour guide
Brenda, our tour guide
Television display of Astronaut Gr…
Television display of Astronaut G…
Tiny Jag next to huge shuttle model
Tiny Jag next to huge shuttle model
Jag tries to land the shuttle.  He…
Jag tries to land the shuttle. H…
Close-up of shuttle control panel
Close-up of shuttle control panel
Television photo of astronaut trai…
Television photo of astronaut tra…
Astronaut being brought to surface…
Astronaut being brought to surfac…
Astronaut Steve Bowen is out of th…
Astronaut Steve Bowen is out of t…
Astronaut Steve Bowen
Astronaut Steve Bowen
Astronaut Eric Boe is helped out o…
Astronaut Eric Boe is helped out …
Astronaut Eric Boe is helped from …
Astronaut Eric Boe is helped from…
Front of full-scale space shuttle …
Front of full-scale space shuttle…
Sam & Mira in front of the full-…
"Sam & Mira" in front of the full…
The Chariot - new lunar rover
The Chariot - new lunar rover
1st State engines of Saturn V Apol…
1st State engines of Saturn V Apo…
Apollo 18 capsule & escape rocket
Apollo 18 capsule & escape rocket
Another part of childrens play ar…
Another part of children's play a…
Part of the childrens play area a…
Part of the children's play area …
Houston
photo by: vances