The USA’s space programme has inspired and intrigued space-lovers worldwide and Houston’s Space Center provides a fascinating insight into NASA’s extra-terrestrial explorations. Founded in 1992 by a non-profit organisation, the Houston Space Center is home to a vast collection of space artifacts, interactive displays, and live shows, and serves as NASA’s Mission Control and astronaut training base.
The biggest drawcard for visitors to the centre is its ties to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration or NASA. The centre has been NASA’s Mission Control base for significant space flights since the 1960s and took the spotlight in the USA’s historic first moon landing. From this centre, the world watched as the Apollo 13 successfully returned to Earth and the Challenger exploded on its disastrous flight path.
In its modern-day reincarnation, visitors can tour a 250,000-square-foot complex that serves to educate the public on space advances and showcase souvenirs from past explorations. The range of activities and exhibits on offer is spectacularly varied and regularly updated, with something to suit all ages and interests.
The Space Center is subdivided into several zones, each with a different focus or function. With so much ground to cover, touring every attraction on a single day-trip is difficult, so home in on these ‘must-sees’:
Starship Gallery: Home to the largest proportion of artifacts, visitors can wander past previously launched space capsules such as the Gemini V, Faith 7 and Apollo 17, walk through the Skylab Trainer Module where astronaut training formerly took place and touch a moon rock.
Independence Plaza: This outdoor space houses the Boeing 747 that for 42 years transported space shuttles as they were launched into space. While the shuttle docked on top is a replica, the shuttle carrier is authentic, and visitors are permitted to walk through its interior.
NASA Tram Tour: Two tram tours transport visitors into the heart of the NASA Johnson Space Center, with one stopping at the Astronaut Training Facility where a replica of the International Space Station stands, and the other stopping at Mission Control for a guided tour of this iconic room. Both tours end at the Saturn V facility where you can walk the length of the most powerful rocket in existence.
Interactive displays and shows: A host of short films, experiential displays, simulators and hands-on exhibits are available, with the programme changing often throughout the year. One of the stand-outs is the Living in Space presentation which gives an in-depth explanation and demonstration of daily life for astronauts in space.
The use of selfie sticks, external lights, tripods and drones is prohibited, so plan your picture-taking activities accordingly. While there is an on-site food court, prices can be high and taking a few snacks or refreshments along will leave you with a healthier wallet. Some attractions are outdoors, so take note of the weather forecast so that you’re prepared for rain, cold or strong sunshine.
Look up the latest programme of seasonal events on the centre’s website; they range from Angry Birds themed areas to Mars Rover displays and something might just pique your interest.