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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.


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INDEPENDENCE PLAZA 

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.


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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.


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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.

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STARSHIP GALLERY 

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 multiple spacesuits.


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MISSION MARS
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.