Saturday, July 23, 2011

Welcome to Houston!

On Monday, July 18, I boarded a plane at way-too-early-o'clock for Houston.  I was one of 30 lucky people from around the world who had been invited to tour NASA's Johnson's Space Center during the STS-135 Mission.  This was the last shuttle mission and NASA wanted to allow a few space enthusiasts from the public the opportunity to be a part of it. 

I almost didn’t go.  The financial strain of last minute travel was big.  Technically we had the money, it just wasn’t there for me to go gallivanting off to Houston on a whim.  Realizing that I was in an amazing position to experience American history first hand, I decided that the memories would be worth the financial sacrifice.  I am so glad I made that decision; it was even more amazing than I could have imagined.

The highlight of Space Center Houston
Upon arrival to Houston, I hopped in my rental car and learned that I had a 55 minute drive from the airport to Johnson Space Center.  I steeled myself for the journey and was on my way.  I had to make a few stops – to a Kohl’s (I forgot my shoes and was specifically told that the sandals I had traveled in wouldn’t cut it on the simulators) and decided to grab lunch at Sonic.   On the way to the hotel I saw signs for Space Center Houston,  Johnson’s Visitor’s Center.  I checked the schedule on my phone and realized that I’d only have an hour to check it out.  I didn’t know if I would have an opportunity to buy gifts on the actual tour, so I decided to postpone my hotel check in and go see NASA the way the average tourist gets to see it.

If I were the average tourist I’d be disappointed.   A large chunk of Space Center Houston is taken up by the “Summer Sports Explosion” an interactive play area where you can “Experience every sport in the world”.  I believe that they were able to extremely loosely tie some of this “science” to space, but it was questionable at best.  If I had Nate and Kitty with me this would have surely been the main attraction and I would have been pissed that they were spending their time playing “Human Foosball” and not learning about aerospace.

I dinked around the exhibits, put on a space helmet and watched a presentation about life on the International Space Station.  I was debating on whether or not to take one of the hour-long “behind the scenes” tram tours, but after consulting with the girls working the line decided to wait and see the sites on the tour “for real” in the morning.  Instead I went to a presentation in a theater with a small mockup Mission Control where the Emcee showed us footage of the day’s Space Station undocking ceremony and briefed us on the current mission. I hit up the gift shop and took off for the hotel.

Being the hostess (read: bossy person who insists on a plan) that I am, I had organized a dinner for our group.  By sheer luck I chose Frenchie’s Restaurant.  I was apprehensive about eating Italian food in Houston (shouldn’t we be having Barbeque or Tex-Mex?) but after consulting few locals and many crowd-sourced reviews, I came to the conclusion that this was the place to be.  Really, we couldn’t have picked a better spot. It was like the Sardi’s of spaceflight, the small room that Frankie, the proprietor put us in was covered with autographed astronaut photos It seems that Frenchie’s, with it’s delicious food and proximity to Johnson, was the place the astronauts ate!

I wore Kitty's souvenir to dinner, this is the only surviving photo of the dealy-boppers as she promptly broke them and Nate turned then into LEGO parts.
Meeting my fellow tweeps was amazing.  We had a former Houston radio DJ, a commercial pilot, a designer at CNN, an aerospace engineer and more private pilots, math geeks, and space nuts than you could shake a stick at.  It was the only time in my life that I felt like the least geeky person in the room.
After dinner I returned to the hotel where I met my roommate, the lovely @RennaW.  We were sooooo excited and giggled like schoolgirls while talking about what we *might* get to see in the morning.  We stayed up entirely too late, seeing as how we had to be back at NASA at 7:30 the next morning, but with the excitement of what lay ahead of us we were just too excited to sleep.

 In my next post, I'll recap our tour day, stay tuned!

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