With the impending launch of Space Shuttle Discovery’s last voyage (and end of the Shuttle program in early 2011), it was about time that I finally explored Space Center Houston, if only for a couple of hours during a short visit to Bay Area Houston last week.
While I didn’t have time for the in-depth NASA Tram Tour or Level 9 Tour, I was able to focus my attention on several areas of the complex: Starship Gallery, which follows the progression of the Space Race from the 1960s through Skylab, complete with some of the actual capsules and equipment; the Astronaut Gallery, a dazzling collection of spacesuits worn by men and women in space; the massive-beyond-words Saturn V spacecraft housed at Rocket Park, and even took in a “Meet the Astronaut” talk given by Michael J. Bloomfield of Shuttle Atlantis and Endeavor missions.
The vivid timelines that accompany the Starship Gallery and the Saturn V rocket brought back memories of seeing Apollo launches on (mostly black & white) televisions in elementary school. Peering into the Mercury capsule in the space-simulated display and imagining myself in that tiny crawl space gave me a claustrophobic chill. I also touched a moon rock and saw how moon artifacts were processed and analyzed. In the Astronaut Gallery, I marveled at the contrast between the enormous “Michelin Man” bubble suit worn during the early days of the Gemini program, and the sleek blue jumpsuit worn on the Shuttle mission by Sally Ride.
Next time you find yourself in the Bay area, don’t discount a trip to NASA for lack of time. You’ll be amazed at how much “space” can be compacted into two hours.