Space Cadets

If every impressionable fourth-grader in the US had the opportunity to spend a day at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, we probably would never hear about any science or math gap in our country. Hell, John and I even had astronaut dreams after visiting for a day. What an unbelievable mind-expanding day it was.

The first extraordinary sight as you approach the Center is the improbable vision of the Space Shuttle Independence perched on top of its 747 launcher. Ridiculous! Outrageous!wp-1483991235670.jpg And, so the day begins…..

Full disclosure here. I had mixed emotions about spending the time and money to visit the JSC (about $30 each, less our AAA discount). I’m not a space nut, nor a science girl. But, I would happily go again tomorrow. There’s so much to see, and it’s such an inspiring experience.wp-1483990719766.jpgThe cool thing here is that the JSC is not filled with mock-ups of space stuff. This is where REAL astronauts train on REAL lunar rovers. Thewp-1483990332262.jpg Orion capsule is the REAL working/training unit for Mars exploration.wp-1483990954206.jpg It’s unbelievable stuff.

We went to the Mission Control Center where early Gemini/Apollo missions were tracked (it’s now used for training).wp-1483990489129.jpg Real-time video from the International Space Station (ISS) ran before our eyes.

Like rockets? Redstone, Saturn, and the unbelievable Saturn 5 rockets are there. The Redstone, used to launch the first Mercury capsules, looks like a mere bottle rocket – slender and unmenacing. wp-1483991067546.jpgThe last of the Saturn 5 rockets, on the other hand, is unbelievably huge and powerful-looking. As we walked I to the hangar where it’s housed, the folks in front of us actually stopped and gasped upon seeing it. We did too – it’s cartoonishly huge.wp-1483991125221.jpgwp-1483991160476.jpgBeyond comprehension that it would lift vertically off the ground.

Of course, our 50 year space program has had its disastrous failures. Apollo I was the first, which results in the deaths of the first three Astro sure, including Grand Rapids’ own Roger B Chaffee, on the right in the photo below.wp-1483990828525.jpg The explosions of Space Shuttles Challenger in 1986 on ascent, and Columbia in 2003 upon re-entry, highlight the danger and the experimental unknown of the US space program.

It’s great to watch the enormous progress of the endeavour – single-astronaut shots in the Mercury program, followed by astronauts in tandem orbiting the earth in the Gemini program. We watched the film of Neil Armstrong stepping into the moon’s surface, while Walter Cronkite removed his glasses and wiped a tear from his eye. Did you know there were 135 Space Shuttle missions?20170109_133550.jpg That number was astonishing to me. And now, we have the ISS, staffed by crew from many nations. Up next? Mars.

I touched a moon rock that was 2.3 billion years old. Actually touched it – I was thrilled.wp-1483983256544.jpgWe both passed on putting ourselves in the capsules that would emulate some of the rougher (throw-up) simulations of being an astronaut. Hop aboard the Vomit Comet?? Not me!

Here are a few other sights from our JSC day. If you ever have the chance to do this, don’t hesitate. It’s an amazing experience. If you are jaded and uninspired about our future prospects, this will ignite a sense of hope.20170109_133930.jpgwp-1483990664115.jpgwp-1483990424939.jpgI was struck by the videos of JFK asking for an astonishing $7 billion 1962 to put a man on the moon. At that point, only the first Mercury capsules had been launched. Yet, in July 1969, Neil Armstrong was stepping on the moon’s surface. Can we not conquer Cancer with an all-out effort, as proposed by President Obama last year? Why not? Let’s dream.

8 thoughts on “Space Cadets

  1. Amazing Judy! I would love that place. Space history has always intrigued me. I’m living vicariously through you. Keep up the good work!

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  2. An excellent tour! They have some of the other leftovers from Nasa at the Kalamazoo Airzoo, and what struck me was how ancient most of the technology looked to me. I couldn’t believe that man went into space in such cramped, uncomfortable vehicles as well. I’d love to visit the Johnson Space Center, it would be right up my alley, thanks for the tour.

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    • It’s definitely right up your alley, Jerry. I was surprised at how much I wanted to elbow some of the kids our of the interactive kiosks, so that I could steer the command vehicle, or whatever. Then I realized that I could be crushing a future astronaut. Hope you get a chance to visit – it’s an incredible, mind-expanding experience.

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    • Hi Jerry. The JSC would be right up your alley, and it is a photographer’s feast as well. I forgot to mention that you can actually go inside the Space Shuttle and the 747 launcher. There seems to be an endless amount of things to see and marvel over. The idea that we could strap a person or two into a little cone, stick it on a rocket and blast it into space is ludicrous, isn’t it?

      Good to stretch one’s mind from time to time. Hope you get a chance to visit.

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  3. Thank you for the wonderful armchair visit. I remember all these events in our space history, and I still marvel that we could pull together as a nation for such a massive effort to expand our horizons. And I’m stupefied that we haven’t unified our efforts against such obstacles as cancer, climate change, poverty, poor education, etc. We are a nation that can overcome great challenges when we put our resources at work for mankind.

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    • It’s crazy how emotional these things are for me, Alison. How crazy was it for Kennedy to call for a man on the moon? Beating cancer should be a cakewalk, compared to that. Never thought of it that was until visiting JSC. Stay warm….

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    • I remember being in elementary school and watching the big black and white tv all day when the early space shots went off. There wasn’t much to see, really, but I am glad that we got to stare at the screen and witness these events. It’s easy to be bit blase, but when you think about it – it’s downright amazing that we launched guys up into space, they strolled around the moon, then blasted themselves off in another rocket and came home. Really??

      It was quite a day.

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