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.