I have to admit having a couple of days in Houston wouldn’t have been my first choice of exciting places to visit. I was however quite pleasantly surprised. I was staying in downtown Houston but as with a lot of American cities the downtown area wasn’t that great, although there were a couple of things worth visiting but I’ll talk about those later. I decided hiring a car was the best way forward. With the car being sorted out all I had to do was to decide where to go. The choice was obvious, the Space Center of course.
After a good breakfast I set off, it’s an easy half hour drive – depending on traffic – along interstate 45 heading south. Once off the interstate you just follow the NASA freeway until you reach the Space Center.
As you drive in the first thing you’ll notice are the two fighter jets at the main entrance, then, as you enter the car park you’ll see it, the huge 747 with the space shuttle sat on top of it. This new attraction isn’t open yet but still quite an impressive sight!
The entrance fee is just under $30 for an adult. You enter what I can only really describe as a big hanger which is full of various exhibits more of which I’ll cover later.
My first stop once inside was the Tram Tour. This runs every half an hour and is included in the admission price. For me this was the most interesting part of the day, my advice, do it as soon as you arrive as it gets really busy. The tram takes you all round the Space Center complex including real working areas, there is a taped commentary explaining where you are but I found it a little difficult to hear sometimes over the noise of the trams engines.
Our first stop was the Christopher C Kraft Jr. Mission Control Center. For me this really was the highlight of the tour. This is the actual Mission Control used in the 1969 moon landing and the Apollo 13 mission. We were taken to the gallery area where the families of the astronauts, high ranking military officers and other VIP’s would sit and watch the proceedings. I couldn’t believe I was sat in the room where those famous words were first heard. “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.
This Mission Control was in use from when the space program started right up until 1998. After that time a new Mission Control was built underneath this one and that is still used today. The original room was then rebuilt using all of the original equipment to be exactly as it was during the 1969 moon landing.
The next stop on the tour was the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility. Here is where the astronauts do a lot of their training, there are mock ups of all the space craft currently in use and one of the space shuttle. Looking around I saw various different craft from the International Space Station and a mock up of the new Orion Mission. There were also various other pieces of equipment including space suits and some of the transport used while on the lunar surface.
Back on the tram we headed off to the final part of the tour which was the Rocket Park. We passed various buildings en route which are used for astronaut training. As we approached the Rocket Park we stopped at an area where trees have been planted, all with plaques in remembrance of various people who have done extraordinary things to help the space program. There was also a circle of trees that were planted in remembrance of the crew of the space shuttle crash who lost their lives.
The last stop was the Rocket Park. We left the tram and were allowed to walk around some of the earlier examples of the rockets that were sent into space. Its hard to imagine now how some of these things made it into space but it is amazing to see them close up.
Also here is where you’ll find the Saturn V hanger. Inside is the huge Saturn V rocket, the sheer scale of it is quite incredible, everything about it was massive. It’s a very impressive piece of kit.
We boarded the tram one last time for the short journey back to the main building.
Once back inside the main building you’ll find various different areas. The Starship Gallery displays actual capsules that have flown from various different missions. There’s also a couple of cinema style attractions however I didn’t have time to visit these. The International Space Station exhibit was interesting and displays artifacts, space hardware and a model of the orbiting laboratory. Finally I visited the Astronaut Gallery which has an amazing collection of spacesuits that have been used in various missions.
I personally found the main building to be more geared up towards kids however there were some interesting parts to it. There was a lot of information and a ton of reading and I’m sure if space is your thing you could spend hours there. For me the best part of the Space Center was the Tram Tour which I really enjoyed.
The next day I found I had a few hours spare before travelling home so I decided to do a little exploring of the downtown area. I’d read up that Discovery Green Park was supposed to be nice so I got out my map and took the short walk down there. I was a little disappointed when I got there, it was more of an open space than a park and not as big as I’d thought it would be. It’s known for its sculptures and artwork of which there was quite a bit, so I took some pictures and left. Maybe in the summer it’s a nicer place to hang out.
I had just about enough time for my final visit which was to the JP Morgan Chase Tower, it’s the tallest building in Houston and one of the tallest in the country at 75 stories. The observation deck is on the 60th floor and one of the best things, it’s free! Now you have to remember that this building is a working office block so I found I stood out a little bit. As I entered the building I asked the security people which lift to take, the lady was very nice and pointed me in the right direction. The lift takes you up there pretty fast and within minutes I was enjoying a fantastic view of downtown Houston. Just one point to note is it’s not a 360 degree view as the observation deck is only on one side of the building but the view you do get is a good one, if you get the chance go and enjoy it, there’s not much left these days that’s free.
So that’s it, my time in Houston is over but I’m sure I’ll be back soon. I really did have a good time here and when I return I’ll definitley be hiring a car again, who knows where I’ll end up next time. Please share this if you liked it.
To see more pictures of my visit to Houston please go to www.pinterest.com/mrbelltravels