Although I didn’t know a lot about Houston before recently visiting, there was one experience I couldn’t wait for – a visit to Space Center Houston. As a kid movies like “Space Camp” and of course the “Star Trek” franchise instilled in me a deep love of space and exploration, and I couldn’t wait to spend some time at this world-famous facility. Other than satiating my own need to pretend to be an astronaut for a few hours, there are actually many reasons to love this remarkable facility and its location makes it an easy place to visit. I was in Houston working with Marriott International to showcase some of the great cities around Texas but, as always, all thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.
Incredible Interactive Facility
The Johnson Space Center is home to both Mission Control and astronaut training and is very much the heart and soul of NASA and America’s space efforts. The only way for non-astronauts to visit though is through the adjacent Space Center Houston. Created in 1992, the Center is a non-profit organization that does a lot more than just usher people through the Center itself. Very much an active educational complex, more than 1 million people meander through the massive space every year. Sure, they’re probably there to visit the Johnson Space Center but, like me, they quickly realize that there’s a lot more to experience than a simple tour. The center has more than 400 space artifacts spread out through an array of engaging exhibits and interpretative spaces. I can’t really call it a museum though, because Space Center Houston is so much more than that. It’s an active place where everyone from little kids to adults like myself will easily be entertained for hours. I love when facilities can manage to bring the visitor into the experience, instead of just showcase dry facts and figures. Whether it’s watching a short film, meeting an astronaut or going into a space shuttle replica, the entire research site is amazing in its own right.
Only Way to Access Johnson Space Center
Although I certainly enjoyed the exhibits and could easily have spent all day exploring, I was there to visit the famed Johnson Space Center. JSC is home to NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center where all aspects of spaceflight preparation occur. Organized very much like a college campus across 1,600 acres, the tour offered by Space Center Houston isn’t just the only way to visit the storied site; it’s also accessible and convenient. The basic tour is included with the admission price, although there are options to add on extra elements. Touring the Johnson Space Center from Space Center Houston is conducted through a tram tour, which includes stops and spending time in key buildings. At the core of the experiences though are visits to the Space Vehicle Mockup facility, where NASA astronauts train for current missions, as well as Rocket Park, were one of only three remaining actual Saturn V rockets is on display.
Riding around the facility was electrifying; just thinking about the accomplishments made on the site over the last half century was humbling, to say the least. Every moment of our trek into space and beyond has been conceived of and planned for here, amongst these nondescript buildings. It was from the JSC where the first astronauts returning from the Moon were received and where astronauts for every other endeavor have lived and trained. Even today it’s a very active place thanks to our continuing work on the International Space Station and the Orion Program. To feel a part of that, even briefly, was very much living out a childhood dream.
Easy to Reach
Thankfully, visiting Space Center Houston is also easy and convenient. From downtown Houston it’s about a 30-minute drive, and if you’re staying around Galveston it’s a fun detour or day trip option. That’s actually how I spent the day, by combining the two activities. Leaving early from the Westin Galleria, we first drove down to legendary Galveston, to avoid the first waves of traffic on that summer Saturday morning. Galveston Island has been attracting beach-goers for generations and although it’s reinvented itself time after time, that feeling of laid-back fun is still there. Parking the car, I spent some time just wandering the beachfront, admiring the views and breathing in the sea air. Combining that along with a trip to Space Center Houston was ideal, and I even had enough time in the afternoon for a third detour to the Kemah Boardwalk. Located on the shores of Galveston Bay and Clear Lake, it’s mostly a theme park, but not only. Considered one of the top boardwalks in the country, I was there to enjoy the waterfront promenade, a nice meal and to be outside for a while. It was a fun diversion, ride or no rides, and I know it’s a place I’d definitely revisit to explore a little more.
It’s Just Fun
I love visiting places where both kids and adults can enjoy themselves equally, and Space Center Houston is that and more. Visiting on a beautiful Saturday morning, it was heart-warming to see so many families there, parents teaching their kids all about the importance of NASA and the space program. It gave me some hope that the next generations won’t only be obsessed with phones and games, but will also have a fierce curiosity about science and technology. More than that though, being at the Center is just a lot of fun. It’s fun to walk through a space shuttle or to see where man’s most important space flights have been organized. It’s fun to wander through the exhibits and even buying some astronaut ice cream. Without question, my time at Space Center Houston was my favorite experience while visiting the region and is one of the activities that I hope to experience again in the not so distant future.