Trip Start Mar 01, 2005
13Trip End Ongoing
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The next day, March 19, Ed and I drove an hour southeast around Houston (the city is 85 miles wide according to Roma) to get to NASA's Johnson Space Center. We bought our tickets (using coupons from travel brochures, of course), cleared the backpack through security, and headed inside. From the moment we walked through the door, we were overrun with kids of all ages. Since it was Saturday, many parents brought their children to the Space Center to "learn" which really meant letting them run wild through the exhibits and play area.
Scattered about the main room were exhibits holding space suits which were used in the past as well as one or two designed for future space walks. Also in the center of the main lobby were several hands-on displays used to demonstrate simple principles of physics and show how they relate to space flight.
The first place we headed was into a mock-up of a space shuttle's cockpit. There were buttons and dials and switches and lights, plus two joysticks that operate the crane in the cargo bay, and a bathroom. Everything was set up exactly as it is in the actual operating shuttle. After exiting the shuttle, I walked up to a huge rounded, conical object with tubes and wires and hoses winding around its top
Our next decision involved whether to settle down and watch one of the three films or take one of the two tram tours. We opted for the tram tour which (after waiting in line for about an hour) took us through several acres of the Space Center and by Mission Control, which was, of course, off limits. We did, however, stop at a hangar which housed two completed X-38 aircraft and one that was in (halted) progress. The X-38 aircraft are gliders which would have been used as emergency escape vehicles for the International Space Station, but due to budget cuts by this administration (which wanted to return to the moon), research and work on this project has been halted indefinitely.
The next hangar we visited held a complete, full-size model of the International Space Station which astronauts-in-training use to familiarize themselves with the design and layout of the space station they may one day visit. The model of the ISS included segments not yet launched and attached to the few sections already in orbit and being inhabited; so what we saw was what the space station will look like when complete, not as it is now. This was truly a spectacular sight to behold
The wait for the tour and the tour itself took a little over two hours to complete, so when we got back to the main building, we didn't have very much time until closing. Rather than sit through the last film, Ed and I snuck around the theater to view the exhibits on display behind it. The exhibits we found included several segments of the interior of the International Space Station people could walk through to get an idea of what life inside is like. We also saw strawberries being grown in simulated moon soil, which lends itself to the idea that crops could be grown on the moon in contained, earth-like atmosphere. There were several lab displays with actual moon rocks and soil on view. Under a light and enclosed in Plexiglas a single moon rock rested. Visitors could slide their hands under the Plexiglas shield and touch the moon rock. We, of course, did and felt the hard black rock which had been rubbed smooth by thousands of fingers.
Once outside these exhibits, we wandered through the remaining rooms of the visitor center which contained computer simulations for visitors to try to dock the shuttle with the space station, to land the shuttle back on earth, and to learn more about the solar system. We also wandered through the gift shop where we considered buying some space food (mostly freeze-dried ice cream), but opted against it
We both enjoyed the Johnson Space Center, but I was a bit disappointed in the set-up. I expected more of a museum and learning experience; what we got was little more than a large playground with three theaters and exhibits in a Disney-like setting. The tours were definitely the best thing (and the most educational) at the Space Center, and I could have stood more of that kind of display. As we walked back to the truck, Ed and I discussed the lack of discipline from many parents we encountered. I'm sure some parents see the Space Center as a place they can take their children and let them play, but it is also a place for learning and many of the children there (being allowed to run wild) couldn't grasp the enormity of the experience. I know some people would say it's easy for Ed and me to criticize since we don't yet have kids, but I do plan to raise our kids with better manners and discipline than many that literally ran into us - even if it is just for them to say "Excuse me" when slamming into a stranger at full throttle. But there I go digressing again . . .
The drive back around Houston was stressful since we headed directly into a severe thunderstorm. Also, Bandit was alone at the camper and we both worry about him when we're not there
The next morning dawned bright, and thankfully so because we planned to drive to San Antonio. Most of the morning we spent leisurely packing the camper and hanging out with Roma and Nova who gave us no end of wonderful traveling advice. They also had loaned us several books on Yellowstone, Bryce Canyon, the Grand Canyon, and Rocky Mountain Wildlife which we returned after perusing. Nova had won several prizes for pictures she took in Bryce Canyon and they sent us off with copies of those pictures and their card. And off to San Antonio we went.