2017: Houston

To Space and Beyond

March 26-28


Houston was our mid-point stopover on the way to New Orleans. We found a fairly new place, the Highway 6 RV Resort, which was pretty quiet for being in a big city.

One reason I had for stopping here was to reunite with a college friend. But first, a trip to space. Well, as close as we'd ever get: Space Center Houston.

The first thing you see, even from the parking lot, is the spectacle of the space shuttle perched atop its host 747. We'd be touring the inside later, but for now it made a great introduction.

When I tried to plan our visit to the Space Center, I found their website a bit confusing. The only thing I was sure about was getting there early to avoid waiting too long for the tram. So as soon as we were in the door, that's where we headed. There was already a long line waiting, and an unexpected wrinkle: there were actually TWO trams, one going to Mission Control and the other going to the astronaut training facility.

I had hoped to see Mission Control, but the first tram leaving was for the training facility and the place was mobbed. Also I'd overheard a docent telling someone that sometimes they stop at the historic MC (my choice) and sometimes at the modern MC, so we chose the bird in hand and took the last seats on the other tram. (Probably a mistake, in retrospect.)

On the tram. Longhorns.

Space Center Houston is the official visitor location of the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, NASA's facility for human spaceflight activities. NASA-Johnson is an enormous complex, thus the need for a tram to ferry visitors around. As we rode the tram to the entry gate, we passed a grassy field with several longhorns. So I got a longhorn pic after all. Sort of.

The tram ride turned out to be a boring tour of the outsides of buildings, with a narrator naming each building and what they do in it. What a thrill. Only not.

Finally we arrived at the one working building we'd be allowed to enter. It's a training facility that primarily contains mock-ups of the various space vehicles that astronauts might encounter. We were herded through a corridor with windows looking down on the different capsules and habitats.

The huge floor below was a dizzying maze of capsules and monitors and equipment. Mike and I were near the back of the crowd and couldn't hear what the narrator had to say, so we could only look down and wonder what we were seeing. The whole thing was pretty disappointing.

One interesting sight was Valkrie, a humanoid robot that NASA has built in preparation for a Mars mission. The robot could theoretically be sent ahead to prepare a Mars habitat for human astronauts.

We re-boarded the tram for the only other stop, a visit to the Saturn V rocket just like the ones that boosted the Apollo astronauts to the moon. This rocket used to be outside on the grounds, but it was deteriorating in the humid Houston climate; so it was restored and move indoors for preservation. Its current horizontal state makes it really impressive; I doubt you could appreciate the scale of it just staring up from the ground, but a 36-story building lying on its side -- now that's a sight.

The engine exhausts turned sideways? Now that's only about a four-story building.

The separator skirts that would connect the three stages for a launch are missing so you can see what's normally hidden. The second stage has five smaller engines that continue the rocket's acceleration through the upper atmosphere. The third stage has a single engine, fired once to establish earth orbit and then again to break out of orbit on the way to the moon.


On the tram ride back to the visitor building, I got one more shot at the longhorns. They hadn't moved the fence for me.

After a bite of lunch, we spent a little more time at the visitor center, mostly going through the various levels of the space shuttle and its 747.

On our way out, we took a few more snaps of the piggy-backed plane; after to the Saturn V it was the most interesting thing we saw all day. Not a great experience.

Max didn't seem to think he had missed anything by not going.

Renewed Acquaintance

March 28

Sometime last year I'd found my college boyfriend Steve on Facebook and sent him a message. It only took him six months to find the message and reply, but hey, we ultimately connected. When I knew we would be passing through Houston, a get-together was mandatory.

Okay, which is which?

We met Steve and his wife Melanie at a restaurant and the four of us had a wonderful evening discussing the (sorry) state of the world. I remembered quickly what I'd liked most about Steve: his ability to make me laugh.

I'd brought from home some old college photos, mostly of parties we'd attended together. We made an effort to pose together matching one of them. Frankly I think we look better now. There was some mystery around what happened to his ears and my boobs. I did note he hadn't gotten any shorter (6'6"). I had a permanent crick in my neck those days.

    Mike, Melanie, and Steve.