Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Out of This World Road Trip - Part 2

Well, I'll try to keep my commenting brief and let these photos speak for themselves, or else you'll be here all day because I have LOTS of photos to share!  I'm posting an abundance because I know the grandparents will be particularly interested in seeing our behind-the-scenes visit to NASA.

Aunt Jackie arranged for a VIP tour with a friend of hers.  She is forever pulling golden rabbits out of hats to touch the lives of my kids!!!  She met a guy who works for NASA who treated her to a wonderful day there, and she was generous enough to ask if she could come back again and bring our family along.  What she didn't know is that my boys are studying earth science this year, and that they finished a rather extensive astronomy unit just before Christmas.  What timing!!

I can't share the identity of the man we met.  We were allowed to take pictures of the places that we saw, but asked not to photograph or talk about specific people.  I can tell you that he is an engineer who manages a team of engineers who operate part of the International Space Station.

I can also tell you that he was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G-L-Y kind and generous to our family, and that he gave us a tour none of us will ever forget.  We learned so much, and allowed ourselves to get swept up in the awe and wonder of outer space for an entire day!  

So, without further of our day!

We started our morning at the Johnson Space Center, which is the educational museum open to the general public.  I had been once before, when the boys were two and three, but they obviously did not remember that trip.  The museum is just as stunning as I remembered.

One of my favorite parts is the lunar exhibit.  This is the lectern from which JFK announced we would send a man to the moon!

Touching a moon rock!  This was the thing that left the biggest impression on me last time we visited, and it was no less exciting to see it once more.  They have one specimen available for the public to touch.  (I try not to calculate the germs on that single rock!)  We got to touch!!  the!!  moon!!!!

At mid-day we met our new friend, and our first stop was the mission control building.

We watched the Apollo 13 movie during family night prior to our trip, so to start our tour here was to start with a BANG!

Gene Kranz has nothing on my cute Buzzard.

We were surprised at how primitive the controls and equipment seemed given how long this room was in service.  It is still very 1970's, even though this room was utilized into the late 80's.

I wasn't prepared to have such an emotional response to this space.  It was truly an honor to stand in this room!!

If ever, oh ever, there was a girl "in control".  Look!  She's practicing her favorite hobby....pushing buttons!  Ha!

(Notice tucked safely under the arm that "Pink Delicious" made the trip with us.)

This flag was flown on the moon!

Buzz Aldrin planted this on the surface of the moon, then brought it back to earth.  Unbelievable.

The room is much smaller in real life than it appears in the movies.

As a side note....there is a room identical to this on the floor directly below this one.  That was a precautionary measure in case of any kind of system failure in this room.  Back in the day, before computer equipment was portable, they had to have a back up plan in case of a glitch, and it involved moving the entire team of controllers to a whole new space.

Each mission flown and controlled from this room is represented by a plaque on the wall.  The "MVP" of mission control gets to hang the plaque once the mission is complete.  (Each of the three mission control rooms carries this system.)  This was an additional plaque that was dedicated by the three man crew of Apollo 13.  After watching the movie, this gave me chills.

Here's ME in the mirror!  :-)

The hallway that leads to the mission control room.  To think of the brilliant minds that traveled this path every day to guide men to and from space!

The next room we saw was mission control for the space shuttle.  Even though funding for the shuttle has been cancelled and the program no longer exists, this room is still utilized.  Many people were working in there so I refrained from photographing the inside, although it was considerably more high-tech than the first room we saw!

The third room we visited was mission control for the International Space Station.  We spent a good deal of time here, since our host works with the ISS and had so much fascinating information to share with us.  The screen on the right is a live cam from the interior of the ISS.  The middle screen shows the global rotation path, and the second from the right is a detailed description of the schedule for the astronauts aboard.  Every minute of their day is scheduled for them, including when they will eat, sleep, work, exercise, and relax.  The ISS operates according to Russian time.  There are currently two Americans on board the ISS, and they serve for six months at a term.

Our next stop was the astronaut training building.  This H-U-G-E facility used to house a mock space shuttle where all flight training was performed.  That shuttle is currently being disassembled to ship to a museum in Seattle.  This is the nose portion.

I don't have the space (or inclination) to give an exhaustive report on the political ramifications of the space program, (not to mention that I am certainly far from an expert), but we learned an awful lot about the benefits of space travel and exploration, and some of the consequences of the massive changes currently taking place at NASA.  In short, Obama cancelled the shuttle program, which flew a final mission in the summer of 2011.  There were six shuttles, all of which were dispersed to various museums around the nation to be used for public display and education.  Houston, home to all astronauts, did not get awarded a shuttle.  (The launch pad is in Florida, but all astronauts live and train, and always have, in Houston, Texas.)  There is great depth of feeling and emotion about the changes taking place, and about the vision for the future.  This is something that I had obviously read and heard about from afar, but had not significantly pondered until we were "up close and personal".  

I had tremendous respect for our host, who made a great effort to be fair and balanced, but also shed light on some extremely complicated and weighty issues and provided us with VERY valuable insight for thought and discussion.

And I'll leave it at that.

In this room the boys had a chance meeting with astronaut Clay Anderson, who lived aboard the ISS.  An unexpected brush with fame!  Again, no pictures of actual people allowed.  :-(

(Except for Aunt Jackie, bottom left.  She's not terribly top secret - ha!)

So....there is a new plan in place for traveling to space!  The shuttle system and design proved to have areas of weakness and unpredictability.  (Two shuttles were tragically lost to disaster; Challenger and Columbia.)  The new travel system returns to a capsule design.  Bush initiated funding for this program and named it Orian.

Obama cancelled the program.  Then, after tremendous backlash last summer, re-instated the program under a new name.  They are in the process of changing all the signage.  (No comment.)

The capsule is scheduled to launch in the year 2018.  Perhaps something will happen with the powers at be to change that time table.  For those curious to know, the US will continue to send astronauts into space to live aboard the ISS, but they will travel there aboard Russian shuttles.

Mock solar panels, which give life and sustenance to the International Space Station.

This building is essentially one unbelievably huge room which houses everything "earthlings" need to build, operate, train on, or practice with, to live and operate in outer space.  It's just plain wild.

The robotic arm from the ISS.

ROBONAUT.  This is one of Nasa's most prominent projects at the moment; a robot who an be trained to go outside the space station (or other apparatus) and perform maintenance and exploration maneuvers.  Currently, humans go outside of the station to perform these jobs.  In order for one astronaut to go outside of the space station for an eight hour shift it takes dozens of workers at NASA weeks of time to coordinate in advance, not to mention the extreme danger of humans working in such a hostile environment.  It will be interesting to see how ROBONAUT might change the efficiency of our future in space!

This is the room where ROBONAUT is being tested and developed.  These are his many hands!

Our final stop was to a public building known as Rocket Park.  This houses Apollo 18.

There were 17 Apollo space missions.  Here's some space math...
Apollo 11 was the first to land on the surface of the moon.
Apollo 13 was the famed mission which was aborted but from which three Americans returned safely home.
Three astronauts fly on each mission; two of whom actually walk on the moon.
Six successful landing missions times two astronauts equals twelve Americans who gaze out their windows at night at the moon and think, "Hey!  I've been there!"

I still can't get my head around that!!

Anyway, Apollo 18 was the next scheduled mission and the rocket was completely assembled when funding for the mission was cancelled.  Thus, this became known as "The Billion Dollar Lawn Ornament".  It is now housed in a facility chronicling the Apollo missions.

The size of this is difficult to relay, but you can get some perspective by noticing the people standing at the bottom right of this photo.

Of course, the small (yellow) capsule at the tip is the only part which would actually travel to and from space.  The rest of this rocket is fuel and propulsion to get it there!

There were five rocket launchers on the back.  The boys loved that part.

Again, a size perspective for just one of those launchers.

Although Houston was not awarded one of the actual shuttles, they did get two shuttle seats and this "white room".  The white room is the room the astronauts would walk through before boarding the shuttle.  You can see one "in action" in the photo beneath this one.

This was truly an unforgettable experience, made possibly by the extraordinary generosity of our wonderful new friend.  (And our beloved Aunt Jackie!!)

It's hard not to be swept away by the romance and intrigue of space travel.  It's hard to imagine that this man, who graduated high school the same year that I did, is responsible for such fascinating and life changing work.  He is so accomplished!  I'd like to just give a very special thanks to the people who took their time to create such a memorable blessing for our crew!

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