A dream come true
Houston Travel Blog› entry 40 of 59 › view all entries
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.