To the Mood and Beyond
As Houston celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, the city continues to be a hub for the future of space exploration
In 1961, a few years after the United States government created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the decision was made to establish a major research and development center near Houston, Texas. The following year, President John F. Kennedy visited the site and gave a speech, where he boldly stated, “[i]n this place in America are going to be laid the plans and designs by which we will reach out in this decade to explore space.” True to this declaration, in less than a decade after its opening, the Johnson Space Center (JSC) was home to the mission control center that supervised the first human landing on the moon.
2019 marks the 50 year anniversary of the legendary Apollo 11 mission, when astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface and declared “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Although NASA’s astronauts have since mostly limited their explorations to the earth’s orbit, advances in technology have led to numerous robotic spacecraft which have been busily exploring outer space on behalf of mankind. NASA currently has 12 separate unmanned space exploration missions underway, ranging from visits to our closest neighboring planet to the furthest reaches of the solar system. Manned space exploration is still a major focus at JSC, however, and dozens of scientists and engineers in Houston are working on plans to send a new generation of astronauts further into outer space than any humans have ever traveled before. From planning future missions to Mars to developing the advanced Orion vessels for deep space exploration, the work being done at JSC is poised to shape the future of human space exploration.
Although NASA has numerous facilities around the United States, few can match the iconic status and critical role that Johnson Space Center has played in the history of space exploration. Although most of the facility is off-limits to visitors, the JSC features an on-site visitor center, Space Center Houston, that is arguably the best destination in the world for those interested in all things NASA. From moon rocks and meteorites to decommissioned rockets and retired astronauts, the wide variety of activities and exhibits spread across this 23,000 square meter facility have made it Houston’s top destination for international tourists. Space Center Houston truly offers something for everyone, from young children to academic researchers. Here, we take a look at just a few of the major reasons why Space Center Houston is worth a trip to the heart of Texas.
Standing just outside of Space Center
Houston is an outdoor plaza containing
the facility’s largest and most aweinspiring exhibit: a full-size replica of
a NASA space shuttle mounted on top
of a 159-ton shuttle carrier aircraft. The
interiors of both these massive vehicles
are fully accessible, allowing visitors to
see up-close how astronauts lived and
worked in space.
APOLLO 11 ANNIVERSARY EVENTS
From July 16th to 24th, Space Center Houston
will be home to a series of official events
commemorating the 50th anniversary of the
historic Apollo 11 moon landing. During this week,
visitors will have the opportunity to have lunch
with the Apollo 11 flight controllers, attend mission
briefings, and take behind-the-scenes tours of the
Apollo Mission Control Center.
INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION GALLERY
In addition to this year’s celebration
of the moon landing, just last
year NASA celebrated the 20th
anniversary of the launch of
the International Space Station
(ISS), a remarkable collaboration
between 15 nations that has
produced a steady stream of
important scientific research. The
International Space Station Gallery
showcases artifacts from space,
robotics demonstrations and live
shows describing life aboard the
ISS. For kids, a series of “pop-up
science labs” will offer a handson opportunity to learn about the
science and engineering principles
behind the historic Apollo mission.
For those interested in
the history of manned
spaceflight, the Starship
Gallery at Space Center
Houston is an excellent
starting point. This
exhibition space features
three spacecraft that have
actually been flown, the
Mercury 9 capsule, the
Gemini 5 capsule and
the Apollo 17 command
module. The Starship
Gallery also features
numerous other artifacts,
including the original
Skylab astronaut training
module, a lunar rover, and
One of the newest exhibits at Space Center Houston is dedicated to one of the JSC’s major current focus areas: preparing for future human travel to Mars. The Mission Mars exhibit walks visitors through the challenges associated with landing on the red planet, and the research being conducted to prepare humans to survive on its surface. Real meteorites from Mars are also on display, and can be touched by visitors.
Ethiopian Airlines will begin passenger flights to Houston in June 2019.