Visit to Johnson Space Center
Today, I took the opportunity to visit the Johnson Space Center, which is only about 10 minutes from Jared and Megan’s house. I actually went two days, as there is lots to see.
The entrance to the site is marked by the two T-38’s on the highway. This is one of the planes that my brother flew when he went through pilot training in the Air Force. This is actually the second plane the new pilots fly. Would you believe the T-38 is only 12 feet high, and has a top speed of 842 MPH?? How’d you like to take that for a spin!
The Space Center has one primary visitor center building, which houses a number of studios, displays, children’s activities, cafeteria (of course), and miscellaneous space paraphernalia. There are various films and video presentations that are offered. Beyond this building, there is a tram that takes visitors to three primary sites on the large space center campus. And it is a campus. The land is actually owned by one of the universities, so all the Space Center buildings were required to be built “campus style”. Thus, when you are traveling inside the campus, there is very little evidence that this is a Space Center. The only external feature is a display of a couple of the rockets.
Tram tour first:
The first stop was the building which houses the Mission Control Center. This is the control room which monitors each of the flights. As there was no active flight in progress, there were no people in the Control Center. However, there were live feeds from the control room which is monitoring the Space Station.
The second stop was a very large building that housed their training center. This enclosed several full scale models of the various items, including the shuttle, and Space Station components. After viewing this area, it is no surprise that the space program is so expensive. At any rate, this is where the astronauts learn how to use everything.
The third and last stop was the Saturn V rocket display, with the other two rockets outside. It’s pretty impressive seeing the building with the graphic of the rocket on the outside. If you didn’t know any better, you’d just think that it was a nice large depiction of the rocket – until you go inside and see that it’s actually that large!! It never ceases to amaze me how people can actually begin to design and build these things.
Forgot to mention earlier that when getting ready to board the tram, everyone is photographed for security reasons (they say – of course you can buy your picture later if you want), then go through a security check similar to an airport, then when you are on the tram, you are given a numbered tag which must be with you at all times, and you have to return to the same seat after each stop.
The vault containing the moon rocks was rather impressive also, if not ominous. Whether it was real or not, I don’t know, but if not, it sure could have fooled me. You actually walk into what looks like a large bank vault. The door is about a foot thick, with large 6 inch locking pins and everything. The exit area has a sign next to the drop down gate that says that if you hear the warning, do not go under the gate, as it closes VERY fast.
All the moon rocks were in climate controlled containers. I can’t remember all the details, but the rocks are stored in pure nitrogen to protect them from water and oxygen, as they are not exposed to these on the moon. The photos give a picture and description of the rocks on display. There was also one small flat rock that was “touchable” by the public. It was sort of like reaching through one of those clear security windows with the small slot for your hand to go through. The rock itself was fairly unexciting – triangular shape about 3 inches across, about ½ inch thick and looked like a shiny piece of basalt. But at least I can say I touched a real live rock from the moon. Okay, maybe not a live one.
The remainder of this display area had the diorama, the capsules and various models and timelines of events regarding the space program. There was also a section of one of the Space Station compartments where the astronauts work out. Apparently, they exercise 2-3 hours per day to keep their muscles toned, as the weighlessness causes their muscle tissue and bone mass to decline (Okay Jared, correct me here if I’m wrong!). They have special resistance style exercise machines which helps keep their muscles and bones in shape.
Oh, one more small piece of info. One display showed the very first satellite – which was only about 6 feet long! I remember as a kid – maybe 8 or nine years old – we went to a local parking lot at night with the folks to watch a satellite go by. It was a pretty big deal back then. (and don’t say anything about the age thing here either – for those of you who might be thinking about how long ago that was!!)
Another presentation was about the Space Station itself. When the speaker began, he pointed to a screen on the ceiling that showed the tracking of the Space Station (SS). The SS is, of course, monitored for both its’ planned orbit, as well as where it’s been. He showed us where the SS was at this time – somewhere over Saudi Arabia, with the idea that at the end of the presentation we would look at the map again and see where it had traveled during the presentation. This presentation was interesting, as some rather up to the minute information was presented. They even showed a picture of a crack that was found in one of the rocket components, and how it was fixed. At the time of this presentation the launch was scheduled for February 3rd, but they were also looking for the cause of the crack, so the launch date could be different. The presentation took about 20 minutes, and during that time, after checking the map, the SS had traveled about 8,000 miles, as it’s moving along at somewhere around 17,500 MPH. For some reason, I want to say that the SS makes a complete orbit of the earth every 90 minutes, resulting in 16 orbits per day. Okay all you I-phone folks out there, what’s the circumference of the earth?? Does that equate??
Okay, another program was a demonstration of the living quarters on the SS. The presentation utilized a scale model mockup of the living quarters, and showed how the astronauts sleep, how they use the toilet, how they (used to ) shower – although there are no showers on the SS any longer, how they eat, etc.
Those functions which all of us attend to here on earth are quite different in space.
First, there are actually 4 walls in these living quarters – no ceiling, no floor. Since there is no gravity in space, there is no sensation of up or down, so it doesn’t matter where you are, insofar as a ceiling or floor is concerned. So, each of the 4 “walls” contained the same features.
The astronauts have to strap themselves in to a bag-like affair to sleep.
The toilet situation was also rather unique. After sitting down on the toilet, there are two padded arms that are brought over each leg, to keep you in position. It would probably be rude to be floating off the toilet when doing one’s business! Without sounding too gross, there are special pieces of equipment for either sex, which utilizes a suction or vacuum feature that is placed over the specific gender-specific piece of anatomy to dispel the soils, if you will – including any liquids (I’m really trying to keep this clean here, you know!). The waste material is deposited in special waste modules (somebody actually asked this question, so the speaker elaborated), which are then “dispensed” when the SS is over the Pacific Ocean. Upon re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere, these modules burn up!! So, all you star gazers out there, just think of that the next time you see a “shooting star”.
I mentioned that there are no longer showers on the SS. After learning that water has a different surface tension in space, which causes water to stick together, so to speak, they have learned that water will not adhere to your body, so a shower does no good. If you were to “dispense” a few drops of water, or even an amount equal to ¼ cup, the water molecules stick together, resulting in essentially a glob of water floating in air.
Most of the food is still contained in the food packets that we see. However, they now have a small microwave, so they can at least heat it up a bit!
Let’s see, in another movie presentation, they were showing astronauts at work outside the SS, in their $14 Million suits. One of the astronauts was describing the connection between his daughter and him, as his daughter was involved in the making of the gloves he was wearing. During his comments he was describing the challenges that are presented in having gloves that will offer the astronauts the dexterity they need to perform tasks, as well as making sure the gloves will protect them from the environment. One thing I found interesting was the temperature difference between being in the sunlight versus being in a shadow of the sun. A photo showed two astronauts working essentially side by side – they were around 5 feet apart. One was in the direct sunlight, one was behind something and was in a shadow. I hope my facts are correct here, but I recall the direct sunlight temperature was around 250 degrees, and the shadow temperature was around -100. Quite a difference in only 5 feet of space!
Obviously, it was quite interesting, and there was still more to see. I would certainly recommend this to anyone who visits the Houston area.
Oh, almost forgot, there are numerous websites for NASA. Here’s a few:
• NASA Homepage: http://www.nasa.gov
• Human Space flight – Shuttle and ISS: http://spaceflight.nasa.gov
• JSC Digital images: http://images.jsc.nasa.gov
• Hubble images: http://hubblesite.org
• Viewing launches and landings: