Houston, Texas

April Fool’s Day!  1600 miles traveled so far.


We’re space and science nuts.  Ask Abby—I think we dragged her to a kids’ science museum in almost every major city we ever visited.  So we got really excited about visiting the Johnson Space Center and we weren’t disappointed.


We started with the tram tour; it was kind of like the backlot tour at Universal Studios.  Only this tour took us to the mission control room where the famous words “Houston, we have a problem” were heard.  We also stopped at the training facility.  There we saw life-sized replicas of all the modules currently in space. There’s even a full-sized replica of the International Space Station (ISS) which is the size of football field.  The training facility is where US astronauts, and others from around the world, train and practice on the equipment they’ll be dealing with in space.  Pictures of everything are here.


Some interesting facts:  The US has had an astronaut in space on the ISS continuously since 2001.  We often have three or more.  The ISS is home to six people at a time.  It’s manned by US astronauts, Russian cosmonauts, Japanese astronauts from JAXA, and various others, including Canadians and Europeans.


The Space Shuttles are no longer operational, so all the astronauts get to the ISS in Russian Soyuz space capsules.  They’re tiny and only fit three people — barely.  I have a picture of one in the photos.  The ISS orbits the Earth at 17,500 m.p.h. and sees a sunrise or a sunset every 45 minutes.  Astronauts stay on the ISS for six months at a time before they rotate home.  Several have been to the ISS four or more times.  They spend two hours exercising every day to keep their muscles from withering and their bones from decalcifying.  They spend 10 hours a day conducting science experiments.  Much of the science might be considered basic (like how a match burns) but in zero gravity, all the rules are changed and things happen differently.
In the next 2-3 years, NASA expects to contract with private space firms to deliver astronauts and supplies to the ISS, instead of relying completely on the Russians.  When an unmanned supply ship arrives (currently being launched by the Russians, the Japanese and one independent space operation so far) the astronauts unload it and then fill it back up with all their trash.  They undock it and let it drift away.  Eventually it burns up (along with all the trash) when it enters the Earth’s atmosphere.  They expect the ISS to be operational until at least 2027.


If you want a good novel about NASA, espionage, murder and mayhem, read Dan Brown’s Deception Point. I thought a lot about that book while we toured the Johnson Space Center.


Tomorrow:  New Orleans!!

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