” Houston, we have a problem here.”
– John Swigert
That’s right. John Swigert, NOT Jim Lovell. While Lovell‘s transmission became part of NASA history, it was command module pilot John Swigert who actually called Houston first about the problem. Here’s the official NASA transcript on the incident.
Swigert: “Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem here.”
Lousma: “This is Houston. Say again please.”
Lovell: “Houston, we’ve had a problem. We’ve had a main B bus undervolt.”
Yeah… I’m a nerd. If you’re surprised then this is obviously the first post you ever read on my blog so: Welcome!
Now, depending on how much you like space travel this post is gonna be somewhere between a “1” and a “solid waste of time” for you.
We started out early and drove forever on massive highways, because ‘Murica. On the way there Lars Gunnar put one of his favourite bands on and I discovered that I had heard one of their songs before. 311 made a cover of The Cure’s “Love Song” back in the day and it’s really good ❤
I was so psyched to see the space center, I remember I was containing my enthusiasm a tiny bit (didn’t want to scare Lars Gunnar with my craziness, especially since I was extremely grateful he took the time out to take me there). They have a couple of “main tours” you can do, a huge cafeteria, a gift shop (first thing I registered, they HAD CHRISTMAS ORNAMENTS!!1), and several hands-on exhibits and puzzle solver areas. This is a place you can bring kids (and grownups who are kids on the inside) if you really want to wear them out. If you are a space geek, allocate a day. you’ll need it.
“Space Center Houston is owned and operated by the Manned Space Flight Education Foundation, a 501 nonprofit educational foundation offering extensive science education programs and a space museum. Space Center Houston is a leading science and space exploration learning center.”
General admission tickets are $29.95 for one adult, you can also get special tours and “Breakfast with an Astronaut”, but we opted for just the general admission planning on the NASA Tram Tour. There are three options on this tour (there might be more, but I don’t think so), The Rocket Park, The Astronaut Training Facility and The Mission Control Center and we only managed two of them (including lunch and scoping out some of the exhibitions around the main building AND THE GIFT SHOP!) – so we dropped the Mission Control Center, but to be honest I didn’t feel disappointed at all. There’s too much to take in in just one day.
Anyway, after a brief stint queueing for the tram (looks like a tiny, white train) we hopped aboard and were ferried off to see the surrounding area. There are so many different buildings housing various laboratories, testing facilities, housing for crew/astronauts/other employees, etc etc, and with my non-existent sense of direction I quickly lost track of what was what and where, but some of the buildings are now exhibition facilities too. And one of the stops on our trip was at the Saturn V rocket(!)
It’s the tallest, heaviest and most powerful rocket ever flown and it was used primarily during the Apollo program, launched 13 times from Kennedy Space Center (with no loss of crew or payload). I knew it would be huge, but walking in to the hall were it is laid sideways I was thoroughly impressed. For the first time in my life I could see for myself the scope of the whole thing. The massive rocket module, and how impossibly tiny the little module that carried the astronauts was in comparison. My mind was a bit blown… All that hardware and power, for such a small thing to have any chance at all of breaking free of our planet’s atmosphere… It’s awe inspiring.
Along one side of the rocket were set up a large exhibition detailing all the Apollo Missions undertaken by NASA, with pictures, quotes and information on what they hoped to accomplish and what was achieved. They also detailed the failures that had occurred where they had lost astronauts, it was pretty somber reading to be honest, but I’m glad they included it. NASA has made a commitment to learning from their failures and taking the best of what they can with them forward – and that mentality is a part of why I am such a fan.
We also got to walk through an elevated part of the Astronaut Training Facility and see a lot of mockups of the different modules that make the International Space Station (ISS). We were told that “after the end of the shuttle program, the shuttle training modules were removed and transferred to museums but one crew-compartment trainer remains”.
Since 1980, every NASA astronaut has walked the floors of Building 9, the astronaut training facility and home of the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility at NASA Johnson Space Center.
Astronauts train within this full-size classroom in the heart of NASA Johnson Space Center. Since its inception in 1975, the astronaut training facility has supported NASA’s missions.
It was fascinating to see, again for the scope of it all… I had always imagined, but now I could really see, this time how small these modules were. Just like the Saturn V it would seem that anything made for crew “habitation” was insanely tiny… Better not be claustrophobic if you want to be an astronaut.
Another somber, but lovely moment was driving past the grove that has been planted in memory of the fallen astronauts. There’s a tree for every person who’s been lost working towards the goal of space exploration. Unfortunately we didn’t have a chance to walk in the grove or see it any closer than this, but I loved the sentiment.
The rest of the tour included said trip to the gift shop and the various exhibitions in the main building, but also a trip to Independence Plaza (right next to the main building) where you can “Go inside the shuttle replica Independence, mounted on top of the historic and original NASA 905 shuttle carrier aircraft, and then explore the giant plane. It is the world’s only shuttle mounted on an SCA and the only one allowing the public to enter both“(!!!) I got to see first hand how the astronauts sleep (which I knew, but again, it’s different seeing it up close), how extremely easy it seems to be to navigate a space shuttle (that’s sarcasm, check out the panels they literally had to navigate) as well as seeing for myself how similar a space toilet looks like a regular, ol’ sh***er.
I’ve cemented my geekiness… I would just like to thank Lars Gunnar again for this opportunity, I would’ve clawed my way to Houston Space Center anyway, but he made it decidedly easier as well as sharing the experience with me ❤
And remember, kids: “M Vemm Jason”