Launching Imaginations at NASA's Space Center Houston

A guide to visiting one of Houston's favorite attractions

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to feel the earth’s gravity pulling against you as you’re rocketed into the atmosphere and beyond? Despite the fact that you won’t be leaving the planet on your visit, the experiences at Space Center Houston are out of this world. Whether you want to learn firsthand what it’s like to live in space or hear from the people who’ve actually been there, a variety of adventures awaits you at this incredibly unique museum and training center.

Space Center Houston replica

Since it opened in 1992, Space Center Houston has seen more than 17 million visitors, all with a thirst for knowledge and a passion for outer space. With space exploration as the vehicle for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, Space Center Houston is suited for visitors of all ages. The center features more than 400 space artifacts as well as permanent and traveling exhibits, including the massive, full-scale replica of the space shuttle that’s been parked outside the building since 2012. The center is the only Smithsonian affiliate in the greater Houston area, and when you visit, you might get a chance to witness real astronauts training for their next trip to the International Space Station. There’s always something new to see, making each visit a unique experience.

Meet an Astronaut

Space Center Houston holds a variety of special events throughout the year to coincide with holidays and summer vacations, but a memorable experience can be found when you choose to meet an astronaut. Learn what it’s like to travel 17,500 miles per hour through space and to see the stars in a completely new way every Friday throughout the year, from the people who have been there. If you’re looking for a culinary adventure, be sure to enjoy a gourmet lunch while hanging out and enjoying a casual conversation with an astronaut. Space is limited for lunches, so be sure to reserve your spot in advance.

NASA astronaut suit at Space Center Houston

Catch a Glimpse of NASA History

No visit to the center is complete without seeing the Johnson Space Center. Building 30 of the Johnson Space Center is now known as Historic Mission Control. In service until 1992, Historic Mission Control offers visitors a trip back to the space-race era; it’s the place where NASA controllers monitored nine Gemini missions and all of the Apollo missions. In fact, it was from this room that NASA controlled the Apollo 11 mission from liftoff at the Kennedy Space Center until it splashed down in the Pacific Ocean upon return. The rotary dials and bulky equipment not only give you a glimpse of history, but you’ll also be reminded of the astounding accomplishments of early astronauts and NASA teams. Most modern watches are more technologically advanced than Mission Control was in 1969.

Historic Mission control center at Space Center Houston

History in the Making

To get the most out of your time at the Johnson Space Center, be sure to hop aboard the NASA Tram Tour. The open-air tram tour takes you to several locations, including Historic Mission Control, Building 9, the Saturn V Complex at Rocket Park, the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory and New Mission Control. Building 9—also known as the Vehicle Mock-Up Facility—is where important parts of modern space exploration training takes place. A catwalk that stretches across the building lets you see several mock-ups of the International Space Station and the new Orion capsule. Other pieces of technology still in development can be seen in Building 9: rovers used for exploring the surface of Mars and the moon, new space suits and various large-scale devices that astronauts may one day use outside the reach of earth’s atmosphere.

Rocket Park at Space Center Houston

The Saturn V rocket, also a part of the NASA Tram Tour, not only soars to a breathtaking height of over 36 stories tall, but its role in space history has been colossal. Having successfully transported American astronauts to the moon on the Apollo missions, Saturn V is one of only three rockets left in existence. Take the opportunity to see it on your next visit—it may end up traveling to space again one day.

The tour also stops at the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory, or SAIL, where flight software and orbiter hardware are used to create simulated flights for training. You’ll see a complete mock-up of shuttle avionics and catch a glimpse of how real shuttle crews train before missions in this stop that has only recently opened to the public. Built in 1995, New Mission Control is yet another stop on the NASA Tram Tour. Flight controllers man the screens and controls in the room 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in case the team aboard the International Space Station needs anything. The room took over Historic Mission Control in the mid-1990s and the difference between the two spaces is unforgettable.

 visit Space center Houston for astronaut artifacts and interactive exhibits

Exploring the Final Frontier

Trekkers will delight in seeing the Galileo Shuttlecraft from the original “Star Trek” episode “The Galileo Seven,” which first aired on Jan. 5, 1967. After a year-long restoration, the ship has been fully restored, much to the delight of fans. It’s a great opportunity to get up close and personal with a piece of science-fiction history. Engage in the interactive presentation “Living In Space” to catch a glimpse of what life is like onboard the International Space Station. The module offers an insider’s perspective of what it’s like to conduct experiments in a microgravity environment. You’ll also learn how astronauts sleep, eat and stay in shape while on the space station.

From full-scale replicas of the space shuttle to the energetic Stellar Science Show geared toward the center’s youngest audiences, Space Center Houston is a must-see experience for adventurers of all ages.

Megan Winkler
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