Yesterday we made the trip from Little Rock, AR to Houston, TX. For the next few days we will be parked in our friends’ driveway for a visit, but today we visited Space Center Houston (NASA). Houston is well known for being mission control for the multiple Apollo missions as well as multiple shuttle missions before the shuttle program was retired in the early 2000s.
We stayed at a campground within a few miles of NASA, and made the drive over, arriving about 20 minutes before the doors officially opened for the day. We realized once we were parked that there were an abnormally high number of school-aged children for being a Monday morning. A banner near the entrance showed us that it was Homeschool Day at Space Center Houston. How cool! We were among other homschoolers for the day, and the best part was that it was completely by accident.
Once inside there was plenty to see and do. There were hands-on displays for the kids such as lifting a weight barbell with the different gravity levels of the planets in the solar system. They could drive rovers around a surface via remote control, and there were tablets with interactive games on them. There were many educational static displays as well. They had mock-up as well as real space memorabilia and equipment. There were also additional hands-on activities such as building a “lander” with craft supplies and driving robots around a marker track that I am not sure if they are there all the time, or they were there for Homeschool day.
We took a tram tour of the actual Johnson Space Center facility including stops at the historic Apollo mission control center, the Building 9 Vehicle Mock-up facility, as well as Rocket Park, home of a real Saturn 5 rocket.
Of all these I think I enjoyed building 9 the best as we could see where astronauts trained to perform tasks on the International Space Station (ISS) as well as the new Orion space platforms. They had rovers, robots, and walking artificial intelligence robots that the tour guide claimed could help perform maintenance on the ISS to alleviate humans from doing it. After 9/11/01 access to the Johnson Space Center was closed for a period of time, but has since reopened, albeit movement of the public is closely monitored and directed while on the facility. When I was in Houston in high school (Pre-9/11) I was able to walk around the facility with very minimal oversight. That is no longer the case due to security restrictions, but I appreciate that the space center was able to come up with a solution to allow access for the public to see specific areas of the facility.
We were able to walk through a replica of the space shuttle Independence as well as a real Boeing-747 shuttle carrier aircraft. The kids enjoyed the shuttle, but I enjoyed the carrier aircraft more since we got to see the real inner-workings of such a massive plane.
Among the cutting-edge technological projects NASA is working on, I found it interesting that they were trying to figure out how to grow plants in space. Currently there is a research program on the ISS that focuses on growing plants under specially-colored LED lights. A special box, similar to the one pictured here is used to grow the plants in soil ‘pillows’. The pleated sides of the box get taller as the plants grow.