Texas, Where We've Been

Space Center Houston

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Space Center Houston

Space Center Houston is a space and science museum located at NASA headquarters in Houston, Texas. The museum gives visitors an immersive experience into several NASA missions – the space shuttles, the International Space Station, the upcoming Mars program, and a brief summary of space flight history. 

There are three different tram tours that you can also take to show you to the operational side of NASA. Only one tram was operating when we went – more on that later.

One of the staples of visiting NASA is seeing the space shuttle. A mock-up of the shuttle and the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft that carried it is on display outside the museum.  

The space shuttle wasn’t designed to fly as a plane would across continents. In fact, it was lovingly known by NASA as the “flying brick.” It was designed to take off in Florida and land at designated points across the U.S. So to get the shuttle back to the launch site at the Kennedy Space Center, it had to be loaded onto the back of the Boeing 747 and shuttled to its destination. The Shuttle Carrier Aircraft performed this mission 17 times over the duration that the shuttles were in service.

In order to carry the weight of the shuttle, the Boeing 747 was hollowed out and reinforced with additional struts and stabilizers. 

This was taken on the inside of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. It has since been added to in order to make it into more of a museum. Do you see the extra reinforcing?

You may have seen pictures of the shuttle missions with an astronaut floating around the open shuttle bay doors. In the picture below, these are those same doors in the closed position. This cargo space was used to carry objects like the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit. 

At one time NASA was asked by children around the world, “How do astronauts use the bathroom in space?” Visiting the bathroom display shares that answer with the public with this clever vacuum system. Since liquids would otherwise float in space, the vacuum creates suction which moves the liquids away from the body and purifies it to be used again as drinking water.

Ninety-three percent of all the liquid captured by the on-board water purification system, including condensation, sweat, and urine can be recycled into drinkable water.

Retired Astronaut Bill McArthur gave a very good presentation while we were there. He had spent many years in the space program. The picture below shows one of his missions to the International Space Station, with fellow Russian Cosmonaut Valeri Tokapeb. They spent several months in orbit conducting scientific experiments in the dissimilar environment of space.

He answered questions from the audience about what it was like to be in space. Q: “What was the best thing about being in space?” A: “Seeing the earth.” Q: “What experiments do you do in space?” A: “No gravity experiments.”

After returning to Earth, it took him several days to regain control of his limbs again because he was so weak after returning to an environment with gravity. He talked about what kind of exercising they did up there and the equipment they had to use to keep their muscles in shape. They had a tension system that they used to increase or decrease the weight to maintain their muscle strength. 

Other exhibits in the museum portion of the facility included the display on Mars and the future that it holds for us. One day we hope to colonize Mars and the exhibit gives a small taste of the potential challenges scientists are being faced with in order to make it habitable. For example, growing food or drinking water are two of the major concerns scientists are facing in order to make life sustainable on the red planet. 

The Robonaut is an up and coming invention that will help astronauts on their future missions. It should be able to move like a human and be able to help with any work needed outside the spacecraft. 

A display on the International Space Station is also present detailing what life is like on board and information on the workings of the Space Station itself. Apparently the solar panels need to be rotated to face the sun to catch the solar power that is used to power the station. Anywhere from 75 to 120 kilowatts of power are generated by the panels – enough to power more than 40 homes here on Earth. 

I mentioned at the start that there were three tram tours that could take visitors to the operational side of NASA. Two were not running at the time we were there, but we hopped on the one that was up and running. This tour led us to the Saturn 5 rocket. 

Housed in a huge hangar, this rocket was responsible for the success of the Apollo missions that landed us on the moon. The size of the rocket is underestimated as you can see the size of a person standing next to it is dwarfed in comparison. The amount of fuel is takes to reach escape velocity is no small amount. 

The lower portion of the rocket contained fuel in two different stages that detached when it was fully expended. 

The upper portion of the rocket contained the Lunar Module (LM) and Command and Service Module (CSM). It was this small LM that detached from the CSM that eventually landed on the moon and allowed for 12 astronauts over 3 years to walk on the previously untouched soil.

Had the other two trams been in service, they would have also taken visitors to see Apollo Mission Control and the Astronaut Training Facility.



Spring Creek Park

Spring Creek Park is a free campground within a park. Each visitor is allowed to stay a week at max. They close and lock the gates at 10pm and open again around 7am. The campground offers full hookups and partial tree cover. 

As we were setting up, the manager drove up to us and checked us in, gave us the bathroom code and we were not bothered the rest of the week.

Starlink was intermittent at 29 down 7 up. Our Verizon phones were connecting at 2 bars. Through the cell antenna, both AT&T and Verizon were at 4 bars.