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.

More nativity visitors

The number of visitors at the nativity set this year has gone up.

In addition to the crew from a few years ago, now there’s Paddington Bear, a decrypted pink armored dwagon, Black Duck, Santa Claus mug, and Sock Monkey.

Nativity set visitors
Nativity set visitors

Mammoths, alligators and butterflies. Oh my!

One of the stops we made on our trip last week was a stop in Gainesville, FL to meet up with one of our friends who just started a post-doc at the University of Florida. After having lunch together, we all headed off to the Florida Museum of Natural History on the University of Florida campus.

Mammoth!
Mammoth!

It’s a pretty nifty museum with a lot of neat interactive displays. Great place to take the kids.

One of these is not like the others
One of these is not like the others

Part of the museum is the Butterfly Rainforest, a really cool place to get up close with hundreds of butterflies. Watch them fluttering all around you, landing on flowers, and even you if you stand still long enough.

Then we went for a walk to the Lake Alice Conservation Area where we were treated to some very nice views of the lake, turtles and an alligator.

UF is a pretty big campus, and seems like a pretty nice place to walk around.

Back to Kennedy Space Center

The Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex is one of those places I never get tired of visiting. We road-tripped back there over the weekend to get in one more visit before  the multi-day passes we purchased last year expired.

You'll need a pretty big tree for this ornament
You’ll need a pretty big tree for this ornament

On this visit, Connie noticed that the Welcome sign above the door to the Space Shop welcomed visitors in 9 languages, including Klingon.

yI'el
yI’el

We went there over two days, and spent the second day at the Saturn V exhibit building. The bus tour takes you past the gigantic Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). Next to the VAB they’re working on building a new launch platform that will be used by NASA’s SLS rocket. It’s an impressively large structure and even larger than the launch platform used for the shuttle.

The bus then takes you past Launch Pad 39A. The last time I was on the bus tour, the pad was one of the stops and people were able to get off the bus and go onto the launch platform. 39A is being used by SpaceX now, so it’s not a stop on the tour anymore. I was on the wrong side of the bus and couldn’t get any decent photos when we went by.

The Apollo/Saturn V Center is always impressive, and it’s pretty easy to spend 2 or three hours exploring all the exhibits here. Next to the Atlantis exhibit, it’s my favourite exhibit at KSC.

Saturn V main engines
Saturn V main engines

A new exhibit (new since my last visit to the Saturn V building anyway) is a memorial to the Apollo I astronauts (Ed White, Virgil Grissom, and Roger Chaffee) who died when a fire started in the command module. It’s a nice exhibit featuring personal items belonging to each of the astronauts as well as the hatch from the command module.

Apollo I hatch
Apollo I hatch

Next time you go, make sure to reserve plenty of time for the Apollo/Saturn V Center.

Maize Maze

We went to the West Farm Corn Maze this afternoon with a friend and her kids.

West Farm corn maze
West Farm corn maze

It was my first time doing a corn maze, and it was pretty fun. It was a good day for a corn maze weather-wise too: sunny, but not boiling hot and with a bit of a breeze to cool things off.

It’s a great place for the family with corn sand boxes (filled with corn kernels instead of sand), a little hay bale maze, big climbing area, petting zoo, pumpkin painting, and of course the corn maze. There was the big maze, and also a little maze for the kids.

West Farm goat
West Farm goat

The maze itself isn’t too hard to navigate with the map, but if you do manage to get lost, there are volunteers (corn cops) in the maze who can help you out. There were 12 check points at various places in the maze that can also help you get reoriented on the map.

Corn maze entrance
Corn maze entrance

After the maze was lunch and then a hay wagon ride. Nice relaxing ride that went around the corn maze, through some woods and by a little pond with some turtles lounging in the sun.

Fun time, and lots of people who looked like they were having fun there.