• J.F. Rowan

"Houston, let's light this candle!"


I feel lucky. I remember the day. It was back in the 60's I was sitting in what our family called a "TV room" and watched on our little 18-inch black and white Zenith television as a man took his first step on the moon. A lot of stars have flown overhead since then, but that day along with a few other male role models in my life steered my life's interests into areas not too dissimilar. Model rocketry, model aviation, flying real aircraft, working on aircraft in the Air Force, I think you can see the pattern here. When I was very young, I even professed to my mother that I could fly in my dreams. As I grew older, I always dreamed I would see the mother of all rockets, the Saturn V. Who knew it would be a bunch of mosquitos that would help this dream come true.

Once we "bugged" out of Sea Rim State Park, well, where to go? We decided we would head to Brazos Bend State Park, about 40 miles south of Houston Tx near a town called Damon. As it turns out, Houston just happens to be where the Johnson Space Center is located and somewhat on the route that we would take anyway. So we make The Johnson Space Center an intermittent stop along the way.

We arrive in the Johnson Space Center Parking lot around lunch time and opt for a bite in the coach within full view of one of the space shuttle's clinging to the back of a Boeing 747. Yvette is also intrigued and she's warmed up to the idea of taking the tram tour as soon as all of our vittles are consumed. We have arrived at the right time as the parking lot doesn't look very full, but perhaps the clouds that now blanket the sky have something to do with it. Once lunch was finished, it was off to the moon. Or close to it anyway. It cost about $45 for the two of us to take the tram for three major stops.

Space Shuttle and 747/Stock Photo

The first stop on the tram tour was a replica of the Johnson Space Center Control room just as it was in the 60's. We were given a brief lecture on the accomplishments and happenings back when the space program was the only real reality show on TV. Naturally, I sat in the front row of the V.I.P., room, literally feet from the same spot all the hot shots in space program were making life and death decisions. Consoles that housed telemetry readings, cups of extra strong coffee, and even ashtrays. Though we were not allowed to visit, one story above us was an operating control room that monitors the international space station. Sitting there, it was a bit overwhelming as I tend to exercise too much memory association. But you just couldn't help but be proud of all this country has accomplished in the space program. Off to the tram and on to our next stop.

Mission Control

The research building was our next stop. The research building is like a giant NASA Santa's workshop. Among other things, the International Space Station is replicated and broken down into separate modules (by country) on the floor where, among other things, design upgrades can be done. We are herded up and down the side of the building on a long walkway, that overlooks the entire floor. There are dozens of projects ongoing from surface rovers to space suits. There are even capsules being designed for future Mar's missions. Off to the tour tram to our last stop.

Rover Research Section

ISS Module Research Section

More ISS Module Training Area. U.S. Sections.

It seems to sit by itself, lifeless and quiet. A four hundred and fifty-foot long building with faded paint. There is a black and white representation of the Saturn V laying on its side. On the other side of the building, two rockets stand upright, speckled with bird droppings and stained with green as if moss is trying to take hold. I'm a bit uneasy at the sight of, well, the lack of upkeep. We are let off the tram on one end of the building. Ten minutes, ten minutes is all they give us to look at this 363-foot historic behemoth. talk about cruel and unusual punishment. Are you kidding me? I'm just going to say this once, for what we paid, for what we all pay, this exhibit stop and all the stops need to be longer. A machine that sent men to the moon and you're telling me 10 minutes? Steam came out of my ears. But I made the best of it, I can be mad later. Yvette and I purposely put ourselves at the end of the line so that I could lag. I mean, whats the worst that could happen, Yvette and I spend the night in the command module? I think she would be up for that.

Saturn V "Hanger"

Business end of giant Saturn V Rocket. F1 engine Nozzles

I took my time. It was a moment that I will never forget and the creme de la creme was the fact that I got to watch my wife's interest increase with every step we took. Those giant F1 nozzles are absolutely jaw dropping. Even though the tour itself seemed rushed, I would still go back and do it all over again. Once the tour had ended, we knew we were burning daylight so back to the rig and time to move on. Off to Brazos Bend, we go.

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