Space Center Houston by Stephanie J. Tillery

1601 Nasa Road One
Houston, TX 77058

April 2004–Walking into this place throughout my entire childhood was just amazing to me. I could remember the many different things that I did from sitting in the pilot’s seat in the mock space shuttle looking over the lobby wondering what it would be like if I became an astronaut. These trips to the space center made me want to do something that would be apart of the NASA community. Not only did I dream about flying in outer space, but I also could not wait for the next time to go to the Space Center . There is always something to do there that will get you interested in the space program. I just can not even imagine what it was like before the Space Center because NASA has always been a major part of Houston s image and the dreams of many children. The Space Center provides Houston with the knowledge and importance of science and mathematics and also helps bring the community together because it is something that is here which provides us all with a common ground to came and unite.

I find the Space Center Houston to be a place of major significance, not only to Houston , but also to America . Through out America ’s history of the space program Houston has been one of the commanding posts of shuttle flights as well as training for future flights and even research. The Space Center is the official visitors center for Johnson Space Center (JSC). From the moment you walk into the Space Center , you feel as if you stepped into a time machine traveling into the future of today’s research. The atmosphere of the Space Center is very alive and energetic. Not only is the staff always at hand to answer any questions, but also there are many hands on sites to visit. This is a wonderful place to get the feel of being part of NASA and the whole space exploration community.

The JSC and NASA felt that they had lots to show and teach to others in the United States , but there was no place to display the artifacts of our own countries space program let alone the resources to show them. Then Hal Stall, a director of Public Affairs at JSC decided that something must be done. Having the mysterious and magical artifacts and models on display in their own employee auditorium was doing no one any justice. Stall wanted to provide a place where children can meet real role models and learn about the space program so children can learn to appreciate education. Stall also wanted to show children that working hard in math and science classes could lead them to a promising career with NASA as spacecraft designers or even astronauts. Stall then joined with leaders from the JSC and the community to form the Manned Space Flight Education Foundation, Inc., a non-profit organization. With this foundation the Space Center Houston was built and put into the hands of the public to embrace. The goal of the center was to be able to reach the visitors on an emotional as well as intellectual level. With the help of exhibits, hands-on activities, and films that goal was reached.

The Space Center brings so much joy to children it is indescribable. Watching children learn and become interested in the past as well as their future is a feeling that will never be forgotten. Walking through the lobby you reach the astronaut gallery. This is an exhibit featuring the world’s best collection of space suits. On the wall shows a portrait of every US astronaut that has flown in space. Besides the astronaut gallery, there is the Mazda Theatre. In this theatre there are films shown about President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to get a man on the moon. The film takes you through what it takes to be an astronaut, getting ready to go into outer space, the weightlessness of space, and the camaraderie between fellow astronauts. When you sit and watch this film you notice that it is done with such great detail that you feel as if you are right there next to the other astronauts. With this film, you the visitor will be touched by the hard work and dedication of the many men and women in the space program.

Then there is the Living in Space module, which simulates what it is like to live in outer space. There is a mission briefer who gives a presentation over the living arrangements of astronauts and daily tasks such as showering, eating, and sleeping. There is an interaction bit with the audience as well. This is when the workers bring up volunteers to act out daily tasks that the astronauts would have to go through. After the demonstrations there is a question and answer segment that allows any one in the audience to ask anything about the living and day to day arrangements of living in outer space. Past the module there are devices that help simulate the landing of an orbiter, retrieving a satellite or exploring the shuttle’s systems. Be prepared to wait in a line for this site because it is one of the most popular. For the young children the Space Center has provided a kids space place where children of all ages can go to experiment commanding the space shuttle or even living on the space station.

The Space Center also has educational programs for both schools and families. The majority of visitors during the week are students that are on field trips. Many schools plan field trips to help provide the students with new methods of learning and being taught in early stages the importance of working hard in school. These programs that are provided and designed to teach the students and children about the space program, how it evolved, and where it is going to be in the future. The Space Center also provides tram tours around the entire NASA site. One other option is that schools, which are out of town, have the option of staying the night and enjoying two days of space exploration.

Lastly there is the gift shop; of all places this is one of the best. When you walk into the gift shop, it’s filled with kids, parents wanting to get out, toys, and all kinds of different space related items. One that stands out in my mind is the freeze-dried ice cream that is sold to customers if they choose. At first I was skeptical to get it, but then I realized that this would probably be my only opportunity to try something this out of the ordinary. When I opened the foil package it looked like matted down cotton candy and this gave me even more reason not to try it

“What is that? Can I have some?” Looking around for the voice I realized that it was a little kid.

“It is ice cream the kind that astronauts eat in outer space. We better find your mom or dad to see if you can have some. What’s your name?”

“My name is James, but I’m not suppose to talk to strangers.”

After looking around for a bit we found the father who was looking around for him frantically.

“Thank you so much, where was he?” said Michael, the boy’s father.

“In the gift shop looking at all the candy and toys. He wanted to know if he could have some dried ice cream that the astronauts eat.”

“Sure it’s fine with me. Just don’t give him too much.”

As the boy ate, the look on his face was just hilarious. He wasn’t sure if he liked it or thought it was the weirdest looking piece of ice cream he had ever seen. That’s when he came out and said, “Dad, can I be an astronaut so I can always have this to eat? This is so cool. I can’t wait to go to school to tell all my friends.” That was just another little reason that helps children dream about what they want to be when they grow up. It’s not just the ice cream, it’s the whole atmosphere that makes everyone feel like they can do anything.

Through some of these exhibits mentioned I feel that it is a great place to share in the educational experience of the space program. As I sit and watch the families, students, and the employees walk by, I notice that there is a happiness throughout the entire center. Many times throughout the week students go on field trips to the center for a day filled with excitement. There are many children running all over the place with parents and teachers trying to round them up. This place is a very laid-back, emphasizing the importance of the reason why it is there instead of how you look. Parents also don’t have to worry about having their children try to look nice. Not only is this a perfect setting to teach the community about their own space program, but also a great place to go and have fun with friends or family. Many times you have weekends that are filled with “What do we do today?” well now there is an option open for you. Take time out of your busy schedule to see what you’re missing and spend a day at the space center.

With all of these options given to the public I know that the Space Center Houston plays a major role in our lives. It gives us all the opportunity to learn about the space program and what it will soon have to offer us. NASA is a huge part in our country’s image and having such a place to go to in Houston shows how much we care. The people of America learned to embrace our space program and with that, we also learned while growing up to continue to be interested in NASA because it is apart of us all. The Space Center Houston just shows us that in a more subtle way. Through out the past history with the first orbit in outer space, moonwalk, and space station being built all bring this country together by providing an ongoing educational experience. When I go to the Space Center I always feel like there is a little astronaut in me. If you have nothing to do save some money and visit the Space Center because you will find yourself planning your next visit.

John F. Kennedy

Exploratorium

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