Close Encounter with the Saturn V
I was in Houston this past weekend and I had the opportunity to spend a very short half-day at Space Center Houston. As a space nerd, this was a treat for me, despite it being in the Houston humidity. It was as much a treat for my 7 year-old son who could probably tell you all sorts of interesting fact about the Saturn V that took men to the moon. It is by far his favorite vehicle.
The last time I visited was nearly 20 years ago and the closest you got to the rocket was a tram width away as you drove past it. Now it's a tram stop unto itself.
Housed in a blissfully air conditioned warehouse, you can get up close and intimate with what is in my opinion America's greatest achievement. I hope that someday in my lifetime the world gets to share in this achievement again.
Seeing five F-1 engines all together is breathtaking and walking to the end where the command module rests really brings home the sense of scale.
There were also exhibits galore about Mission Control and a console to sit at and imagine yourself in that room when it heard, "the Eagle has landed."
Also in the vicinity were a Mercury Redstone and Little Joe 2 rockets used in the space program. Unfortunately, due to time constraints we were not able to go on the separate Mission Control or Astronaut Training tours. A good reason to return.
We spent the rest of our time in the main Space Center, wandering among the various exhibits. Above the main space hangs a full sized mock up of a lunar lander.
Other highlights included the hall of spacecraft which displayed actual command modules from Apollo and other programs.
We did make time to attempt the Space Shuttle landing simulator which I'd previously tried two decades earlier. Twenty years ago, today, tomorrow, it doesn't matter. It's ridiculously hard to land that flying brick and we ended up crashing into the runway.
Also on display was a full scale mock-up of Skylab, the United States' first space station. Made from unused portions of the Saturn V, Skylab was far bigger than you'd ever expect it to be when reading about it.
However, second to the Saturn V, by far the most impressive exhibit is the full-sized Space Shuttle replica mounted on an actual Shuttle Carrier Aircraft 747. You can explore inside and around both. It's a massive yet remarkable up-close experience.
We ran our of time before we could properly explore the place, however I can say we will be back.