A trip to Johnson Space Center, home to human space exploration since 1961 has been a long time dream. I was thrilled to finally set foot on the holy space ground, walking down the same path where great men and women have paved the way to space. What an honor! No doubt I got good chills running through my spine. One of the things I enjoyed most was the open-air tram tour where I get to explore some of NASA operating facilities.
Johnson Space Center was established in 1961 as the Manned Spacecraft Center, renamed in honor of the late President, and Texas native, Lyndon B. Johnson in 1973. It was born out of NASA’s early space program's need for facilities to house the Space Task Group and to hit President John F. Kennedy ambitious goal of putting a man on the Moon by the end of the decade. It served as the main operational hub of Gemini, Apollo, and Skylab projects during its early days.
The space center has a campus-like layout, each building is labeled with a number or alphanumeric.
The first stop was Building 9NW - the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility. Inside the 200 meters room is a full-scale replica of the International Space Station and Space Shuttles build true to the real spacecraft in the orbit. It serves as a training ground for astronauts, engineers and mission support staff to be familiarized with the operating system of the 430-ton space station.
The facility also has a 1/6th gravity simulator and Mars Rover test vehicles.
Along the way, we pass by one of the restricted building that I would love to see - the Neutral Buoyancy Lab. Known to have the largest pool in the United States and perhaps the world, it contains 23.5 million liters of water. During the training exercise, astronauts are lifted and put into the pool by crane. The training aims to stimulate the weightlessness of space travel.
The disadvantage of neutral-buoyancy diving as a simulation of microgravity is the drag effect. Underwater, an object is easily kept still while difficult to set and keep in motion which is the opposite effect of how an object moves in zero gravity. In space it is easy to set an object in motion, but very difficult to keep it still. To compensate and minimize this drag effects, tasks are done slowly in the water.
Home to the mighty and massive Saturn V rocket, one of the three remaining rockets that were left after the Apollo program ended. The three segments, called stages, contain the powerful engines needed to lift off and entering orbit that sends Americans to the Moon. Despite its massive structure we see, only the spacecraft capsule and service module went to the Moon. The rest of the rocket were used and detached along the way.
A huge space dedicated to an actual Boeing 747 aircraft, with a replica of space shuttle aka Independence mounted on top. The 747 aircraft is one of two Shuttle Carrier Aircraft developed by NASA to transport the space shuttle from its secondary landing site back to the main Shuttle Landing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center. The stairs on the side us all the way up into the shuttle and aircraft where everyone including me geek out over the exhibits and interactive installations on the history, functions, and significance of the aircraft and shuttle.
What an incredible day at the Space Center! It was truly inspiring and extremely educational to learn about the history, the present and the future. Currently Johnson Space Center functions as the mission control for the International Space station(ISS), training ground for astronauts before blasting them off to the ISS, building site for Orion and NASA’s Commercial Crew programs
Words by Buranee Soh