On April 18th, our fearful leader Commander Merlin allowed me some shore leave. Since we were just outside of Houston, I drove over to see Johnson Space Center’s Visitor Center. I have spent many hours at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center (I’m even shown briefly twice on the bus tour video with Commander Eileen Collins!) in the past, and was looking forward to seeing what was at JSC.
JSC Visitor Center is basically a large room with a couple small side rooms. It was not very large and seemed to be overwhelmingly dedicated to children. There was a large playhouse that stood two stories and I joked to one visitor that it must be the model for Obama’s new deep space ship. Nearly ½ of the room is dedicated as a children’s playground.
The first thing I noticed when I walked in, after paying $20, was a large toy rocket that could only be Obama’s new rocket. It was as apt to fly as his new plan. Next to it was a large display for a real Human Space Flight Program called Constellation that Obama had just cancelled. Thankfully NASA had not had that pulled yet.
There was a forward section of the space shuttle, called Adventure, that was very realistic and people could climb the stairs to view the interior of the unnaturally spacious cockpit. I understand the expanded space since it would have to accommodate thousands of visitors each day, but folks really do not get a good grasp at just how cramped the Shuttle cabin is especially with a six man crew.
There were a few simulators, such as a landing simulator where you could land the Space Shuttle, a simulator ride, and an actual simulator used by the astronauts to train for using the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) while working on satellites during the Shuttle’s heyday.
I spent some time on the MMU simulator with great success. Basically it is a something like an air hockey puck that floats on a table. You lie in the seat and try to work various tasks on a panel above your head without spinning away. You have to work two controls that puff out jets of air to keep you centered under the panel. You have only a limited amount of “fuel” in those air jets and a limited time to complete the tasks. I surprised myself by completing the tasks in less than one minute and saving 2/3rd of my fuel.
It took me less than one hour to see just about everything inside the center. Compare that to KSC Visitor Center where you can take up to two full days to view everything. To be fair, I did skip the IMAX movies since I’ve seen them before so I can’t give you a review of their theaters.
I was going to take the tram tour (KSC uses full size air conditioned buses), but there was rain coming and the trams are open to the weather. The tour takes you to some of the training areas, mission control (which was closed to the public due to Discovery being in orbit), and the Saturn V exhibit. The line for the tram was over an hour long and the staff warned us that they might close the tram due to the storms.
I decided that I wasn’t going to take the tram and instead hung around for a little while talking with the tourists. I met several JSC employees that were there with their families and guests. They are just as angry at Obama and the NASA administration as the KSC folks are. I also spent time talking with a engineer from England who used to work on the Rolls Royce Power Plants that powered many fighter jets. He was stranded in Houston due to the Iceland volcano. He asked why Obama was killing the program and just couldn’t believe our nation would allow it. I told him there were many things I couldn’t believe our nation has been allowing of our so called leaders lately.
I then left the Visitor Center and drove over the JSC’s version of their rocket garden and the Saturn V. To be blunt, I was disappointed. There were two rockets, a Bumper rocket and a Mercury Redstone, and two engines. That’s all! It is nothing like KSC’s visitor center which has about 15 rockets from every major Human Space Flight Program.
The Saturn V rocket, which is one of the last three remaining ones, was mounted on a trailer and had a metal structure around it. The metal structure reminded me of those garden sheds we put in our back yards. There was no space inside to get a decent picture of the rocket and not very many exhibits. Compared to the Saturn V Center at KSC, it was disappointing.
I did shoot a video as I walked down the length of the rocket at a normal pace to give you an idea of the size.
Like KSC Visitor Center, the world comes to JSC Visitor Center to view our past and current achievements in Human Space Flight. I heard languages from all over the world. A NASA Visitor Center is a place for our country to put its best face on for the world and make a good first impression of our commitment to science, Human exploration, and peace. KSC Visitor Center accomplishs that above and beyond without using taxpayer funds. Delaware North runs the KSC Visitor Center and has always put a good first impression for our country to the world. I am afraid that JSC Visitor Center does not.
JSC Visitor Center is owned and operated by a non-profit group called The Manned Space Flight Education Foundation, Inc. I would strongly suggest this group have Delaware North do some consulting for them. Currently the JSC Visitor Center is more like a children’s playground with a few adult exhibits thrown in, than a quality state of the art center like KSC Visitor Center.
It’s a shame that JSC NASA does not do more to help improve the visitor center. But, since NASA does not seem to care much anymore about Human Space Flight, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.
If you want to visit a top notch Human Space Flight Visitor Center, then go visit KSC Visitor Center. It’s worth the drive and expense and it has no difficulty showing our nation’s pride in Human Space Flight.
If you just want a day out with the young children, the JSC Visitor Center would work just fine.