NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston is one of 10 space centers in the U.S., the most famous being Kennedy in Florida (from where most shuttles take off), and this one, for the popular but erroneous quote, “Houston, we have a problem.” (Actually said: Houston, we’ve had a problem here.)
JSC is 1,600 acres of geek heaven, but at this apex in human history, even non-geeks can get excited about outer space. To wit: Elon Musk recently launching his own personal cherry-red Tesla into orbit, with a dummy named Starman behind the wheel. Now that’s space excitement!
The science center has lots of cool, hands-on exhibits, but the real draw (at least to us) was the tram tour of JSC. This is not a replica. It is the actual home training base of the nation’s astronauts, International Space Station mission operations, Orion program, and more … the real deal!
Mission Control is run out of this 1950’s-era building, with 1950’s-era furniture and actual drinking fountains (didn’t those go the way of the pay phone?). For the “future” of space, it’s definitely the “past” of appearances.
We were sat in the viewing gallery of the actual historic Mission Control from which NASA led Gemini (which we learned is “Ja-Mee-Nee,” not “Gem-Ah-Nigh”) and Apollo missions, including the famous Apollo 13 as depicted in the terrific Tom Hanks movie. It’s retired now, but retains all the actual vintage stuff, which only looks fake because it’s so dang out-of-date.
The viewing gallery is where the important people and astronaut’s families would come to get information about what was happening, in the pre-cell-phone, pre-texting era. Many important people have sat in these seats, including sitting presidents from Eisenhower to H.W. Bush, and even Queen Elizabeth. And now we have too!
Also part of the tour is a huuuuuuge Space Vehicle Mockup Facility. It’s got an elevated path with full glass windows so visitors can look down and watch them at work. This is one of the places where astronauts train for missions, and where scientists are developing ever-more amazing space exploration vehicles. Again, not a museum … a working facility! So exciting!
Robots, anyone? These are just a few of the interesting looking space explorers under development.
The tour also takes visitors to Rocket Park (euphemistically named: actually a huge warehouse in a cow pasture), where one of of only three of the remaining actual Saturn V rockets is displayed. It is impossible to properly convey how huge this is!
The shuttle replica Independence is mounted on top of the historic, original NASA 905 shuttle carrier aircraft. Tally marks on the outside commemorate her many missions as a high-flying pack mule!
This is the world’s only shuttle mounted in a shuttle carrier aircraft, and the only one the public can enter. Exhibits inside share the history of one engineer’s vision: “HEY let’s just mount the shuttle on top of an airplane to move it around!” After much mockery, the “it’s so crazy it just might work” mentality kicked in, and the rest is history.
Interactive exhibits and presentations really bring space life to real life! This show, about life on the International Space Station, was my favorite. The brown fabric on the left represents “bed” since without gravity, you have to be tied to the wall to sleep (including a fabric band across your forehead). The exercycle represents the two hours DAILY, every day, that astronauts are required to exercise (thereby ending my desire to be an astronaut) to keep their bones and muscles from atrophy. And the tube on the toilet is used to, uh, well, suck the pee or poo out of you, since zero-gravity means zero-ploppability! Then they recycle it! Don’t ask! At least everyone has their own personal attachment for sanitary purposes.
The ISS was constructed over 40 missions and to date, 15 nations have partnered and/or sent astronauts here to live and learn. Whether geeky or not, you should skim this fascinating National Geographic article: “These Astronauts Saw Earth From Outer Space and How It Changed Them.” (click link to read)
Leaving Houston, we took a very quick spin through Louisiana on our way to Mississippi.
The small town of St. Francisville is home to a number of plantations offering tours, including The Myrtles, which is rumored to be amongst the most haunted in Louisiana.
Chief amongst the haunters is a young slave girl named Chloe. She was the reported mistress of the plantation master, but when he eventually grew tired of her, she was sent back to slave quarters. In an effort to “save the day” and get back in his favor, she decided to make the children of the house just a little bit sick and then nurse them back to health. However, she did so by baking a cake with enough white oleander in it to kill a team of horses, so when the children of the house fell over dead, she was hanged immediately. Her ghost roams this property and we heard lots of fascinating tales of the goings-on here. A representative cake of the original culprit reminds us her Chloe’s error in calculation.
One interesting feature of the house is the “brag button” on the first bannister of the home, right at the entryway. If your house was full paid for, you inserted the deed into the banister and sealed it up with a decorative button. Thereby announcing to all who enter that you are rich enough to own your property free and clear, without actually saying so.
Lastly in Louisiana, we did some hiking as Philip is finally enjoying the fruits of his four back surgeries in the last three years: pain-free walking! Hurray!
The Clark Creek Natural Area has beautiful bayou trails and baby waterfalls! (In Louisiana, these are considered BIG waterfalls, but once you’ve been to the Pacific Northwest, you’ve got perspective on what’s a big waterfall, and what isn’t).
The steeper parts of the trails are developed with long, tall staircases, and we tried not to think too hard about why a bra was laying out in one place, a pair of shorts in another, a sock somewhere else.
Happy hikers, indeed!
As we leave Louisiana, our next stops are all in Mississippi:
Natchez, Vicksburg and Jackson! Great stops for some Civil War history!
Thanks for following along!
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