|What it's Really Like, by a Real Astronaut|
I went to Starbucks and chatted over the phone with Joel, a friend of a friend of mine, who's been generous enough to let me stay with him in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Afterward, I spent the day at Space Center Houston, "the official Visitors Center of NASA's Johnson Space Center (home to Mission Control, the astronaut training program and the space shuttle program). I arrived at 11am, went through the security check and turn-styles, looked up and thought I was at a children's play land! It looked like an indoor carnival or something. I was relieved to find out after opening the map that while the Kids Space dominated the the entrance area, there was much more to see. It wasn't much later that I discovered that everything runs on a schedule, so I grabbed a pen and ordered what I wanted to see and when, and realized that and even though I arrived only one hour after they opened, I wouldn't get to see everything!
|Actual Mission Control Center!|
My first stop was the Blast Off Theater, where I got to hear a 30-minute live briefing of current spaceflight activity. The first 5 minutes of the briefing had us all laughing, as the Mission Briefing Officer turned on the live feed to a mission control center, only to show 2 guys doing absolutely nothing! One guy was actually sleeping, while the other guy slumped back in his chair. Soon, a third guy walked by the screen carrying a piece of cake! Hilarious! And sad, since they were supposed to monitoring a real mission! I don't know if the Mission Briefing Office pressed a button that woke them up or what, but soon after she saw what we were laughing at, the guys perked up and started working, lol.
|Space Training Facility|
Next I went to the Northrop Grumman Theater and watched "To Be An Astronaut," a 25-minute documentary that explores the experience of being an astronaut from selection all the way to flying in space. It was interesting, but I and my fellow viewers found ourselves distracted about halfway into it, when, for whatever reason, the overhead lights came on and stayed on the rest of the film. Maybe people were being naughty in the back? :P
Height - 363.0 feet, Diameter - 33.0 feet, Mass - 6,699,000 pounds
Then I raced back over to the Blast Off Theater for a live presentation from an actual astronaut, which happens only on Fridays - lucky me! Leroy Chiao spent 30 minutes with us, explaining his experience in space aboard Expedition-10, as Commander and NASA Science Officer of the 10th mission to the International Space Station. "During his six and a half month stay aboard the station, Dr. Chiao performed numerous tasks including 20 science experiments and two repair and installation space walks, using the Russian “Orlan” space suit. With this mission, Dr. Chiao became the first Asian-American and ethnic Chinese Mission Commander." Of only two people aboard the Space Station during the mission, you can imagine how isolating it could've been, however exciting, nonetheless.
|"Beam Me Up, Scotty!"|
Next was the most popular attraction at Center, and my favorite part: a 90-minute "behind-the-scenes tram tour through NASA's Johnson Space Center. Stops included the current Mission Control Center (cool!), the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility (where astronauts train for outer space!) and the Saturn V Complex at Rocket Park (houses "the tallest, heaviest and most powerful rocket ever brought to operational status").
I checked out the main plaza exhibits for a while, which includes the Astronaut Gallery, "featuring the world's best collection of spacesuits!"
|To Sleep Standing Up|
The 25-minute live, "Living In Space module simulates the challenges of living and working in space, to show how the smallest tasks like showering and eating are complicated by a microgravity environment." It was fun and informative - did you know that their drinking water is recycled and filtered? Makes sense, I just never thought of that before (I was reminded of the movie, Waterworld, lol). And going to the bathroom is not as easy as you think. How do you sit on a toilet in zero-gravity? There are steel clips over the feet and knees to hold you down. And what about sleeping? No need to lie down. It all feels the same. After the presentation was over, the host let me "suit up" in a "space bed." Imagine standing up in a sleeping bag and having your head strapped down.
|Freeze-Dried & Ready to Eat!|
Last on my list of activities for the day, and mind you I didn't even get to see everything in the 7 hours I was there, was Starship Gallery, which "begins with the film "On Human Destiny," followed by doors that lead you to artifacts and hardware on display that traces the progression of America's Manned Space Flight. The collection includes a Lunar Roving Vehicle Trainer, the Apollo 17 Command Module, the giant Skylab Trainer, and the world's largest collection of moon rocks, including a 1.5 billion year old lunar touchstone!"
Before heading out, I stopped browsed through the Gift Shop, where I bought an unusually-prepared ice cream sandwich (above photo) and tried on a space suit!