Back in second grade I got my first Tom Swift book called “Tom Swift and his Flying Lab”. This was the 1950’s and the whole space race was just taking off. I was hooked on space–yes, I wanted to visit the moon, the planets and the stars. Back in the day, when light pollution was at is earliest stages one could see many of the stars and constellations. Sure this sounds nerdy; and it was because today I still am when it comes to science and fiction.
The 1960’s was focused on the American-Russian race to put a man in space and eventually on the moon. It seemed like everyone was obsessed with space travel–Star Trek, 2001 a Space Odyssey, Lost in Space, etc. Science fiction books were very popular–I particularly enjoyed and have often re-read “Stranger in a Strange Land” by Robert Heilein.
However, it was the space race that really stoked my ongoing interest in space exploration. I recall sitting in front of the television each time a rocket was launched whether for the Mercury, Gemini or Apollo programs. The astronauts were heroes. Would any red-blooded American kid pass up a chance to see NASA’s rockets, space capsules or anything else tied to the space program. The answer is NO!
Johnson Space Center is south of Houston, Texas. It is a fairly large complex that includes many buildings, rockets and a museum. There is a tran that transports you to three sites: the first stop is the Christopher Columbus Kraft Building named after the man responsible for creating “mission control”. Mission control was represented by a room that contained computer terminals tied to a two gigabit computer — with less power than a modern-day cellphone. If you have ever seen the documentaries or films that use mission control as part of the plot line than seeing the real thing is quite thrilling. The room is small and the systems–phones, desks, etc.– such as they were, now seem ancient. It also contains a lot of space memorabilia which really stirs up memories. For example, I had forgotten that there were several flights to the moon that resulted in an actual landings and sample retrieval.
The next stop was to a large warehouse building housing a Saturn Missile — the kind used to shoot the apollo space craft to the moon. The Saturn is one of the most powerful missiles ever built by man.
The next and last stopping point is the space center museum and theater. Here we touched moon rocks and saw a number of inter-active exhibits including entering a control room for a space shuttle.