A Day in Houston, Texas: Visiting NASA’s Johnson Space Center

Trivia fact: Houston, Texas is America’s fourth largest city. And one of its most popular tourist attractions is the Space Center Houston which is the official visitors centre of NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Opening in 1992, the Space Centre Houston has seen 17 million people pass through its gates. Its main mission is to provide a fun and engaging educational experience on the subject of space exploration. The centre itself features more than 400 space artifacts as well as numerous permanent and traveling exhibits (on my visit there were Angry Bird and Ripley’s exhibits on display).

It’s a 45 minute drive to the Space Center from Downtown Houston. There are plenty of guided tours that will take you there, but to maximize your time at the centre I encourage everyone to hire a car and drive yourself. From Downtown it is mostly freeway conditions to the centre.

Give yourself at least 5 hours at the center if you want to take advantage of all the attractions that the Space Center Houston has to offer. Upon arrival I made a bee line straight for the Starship Gallery & Destiny Theatre for a showing of a film on the Apollo, Gemini and Mercury space missions.

From the beginnings of the US space program with Mercury, to NASA sending a man to the moon with the Apollo missions, the Destiny Theatre is a an informative brush up on the history of US space program. After the conclusion of the film, you are taken to the Starship Gallery where you will see artifacts from the various missions to the moon plus actual pieces of moon rock. Space Center Houston also holds the largest piece of moon rock available for public viewing anywhere in the world. There is also a section replica of Skylab and the fascinating story of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. Aptly named one of the world’s most expensive handshakes, the project was where a US capsule docked with a Russian capsule for a photo-opp handshake – all at a cost of $150 million dollars.

The second attraction you must visit is the Living in Space show and exhibition. The 30 minute live talk features a staff member from Space Center Houston explaining the life onboard the International Space Station (ISS). From how scientists onboard the ISS eat, sleep, exercise, to the various experiments onboard, the talk is a fun and interactive experience that is enjoyed by young and old. In conclusion of the talk, the audience is encouraged to check out the artifacts and hardware from the ISS.

The last exhibit I checked out was the Blast Off! Theatre which provided live mission updates from the NASA Johnson Space Center. The live updates alternates from the International Space Station to the Curiosity landing probe mission to Mars. A knowledgeable Space Center Houston staff member talks through the most up to date information from each of those two missions.

The one activity that I didn’t get to try but comes recommended if you have the time is the Tram Tour. Get in early and book your spot because the tour is VERY popular. The 90 minute tour takes you on a behind the scenes tour through NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Visiting Rocket park, the Saturn V rocket facility to a view of the astronaut training centre and mission control room, the Tram Tour is highly recommended if you want a closer look at the workings of NASA.

There are plenty of displays at Space Center Houston to keep everyone informed and entertained. From the collection of space suits that were used, to a replica of the space shuttle’s command unit and the moon rocks themselves, really brings the whole NASA space exploration program to life. The Space Centre Houston is highly recommended even if you have a passing interest in space.

For more information about Houston and to plan your trip to Texas, visit TravelTex.com.

To find out more about the center, head to: http://spacecenter.org/.

This trip was made possible thanks to Texas Tourism and Houston Tourism. Photos by the author.