Visiting Space Center Houston

Last weekend we were in Houston and paid a visit to Space Center Houston, the visitors center for NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC).

NASA Johnson Space Center
NASA Johnson Space Center

Like Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Space Center Houston (SCH) is a pretty fun place to visit. It’s not quite as large as KSC, but it’s got some pretty sweet exhibits including Independence Plaza that features the Boeing 747 that ferried the space shuttles across the country.

Independence Plaza
Independence Plaza at Space Center Houston

I highly recommend the 90 minute tram tour that will take you into NASA JSC. If you go early and catch the first or second tour (SCH opens at 9 or 10 AM. See the calendar for hours), you’ll avoid the long line. The tram tour takes you into JSC where you’ll get to go into the Christopher C Craft Mission Control building, the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility, and Rocket Park.

At Rocket Park, you’ll see some of the rocket engines that powered the Saturn V, rockets used for the Mercury and early Apollo programs, and the king of rockets, the Saturn V.

The Saturn V at SCH is one of three remaining Saturn V rockets and was restored fairly recently.

From the SCH website:

There are only three Saturn V rockets on display in the world. The rocket at NASA Johnson Space Center is the only one comprised of all flight-certified hardware. The other two rockets are made of flight hardware, mock-ups and test components. The three segments, called stages, contain the powerful engines needed to lift off, entering orbit to reach the moon. In total, 13 Saturn V rockets launched into space.

When you’re back from the tour, head over to Independence Plaza where you can wander through the NASA 905 SCA (Shuttle Carrier Aircraft) and the Shuttle Independence, a replica space shuttle. This is another one you probably want to get to early in the day so that it’s not too crowded. We went first thing in the morning on our second day visiting SCH, and had the shuttle and 747 pretty much all to ourselves.

Make sure to stop in the food court where you can have lunch sitting next to the Galileo shuttlecraft (NCC-1701/7) used in the Star Trek episode Galileo Seven. This is the actual set prop that was used in the episode and fully restored. You can read about the Galileo’s history and the restoration at startrek.com.

Before leaving SCH (or before the doors open if you got there too early), make sure to walk the scale model of Solar System. It starts over on the left side of the parking lot near the SCH building and goes around the perimeter of the parking lot toward the main entrance.

Of course, the rest of the exhibits at SCH are pretty cool too. Lots of great shows, interactive displays and an impressive collection of space and space program artifacts. It’s a great place to spend a couple of days exploring while you’re in Houston.

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