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Houston...We Didn't Have a Problem, We Had a Great Time!

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Just about two years ago, Angela Vargo and Brian Lusk visited the Manned Space Center in Houston.  Part of that tour included the Apollo Command Center.  In honor of the 40th anniversary of man first walking on the moon, we highlight that post. 

Angela: It's sad that it's taken us this long to tell you about an incredible experience we had a couple months ago when we visited NASA in Houston, but with the successful landing of the Space Shuttle Endeavour last week, the timing seemed appropriate to relay events that were truly once-in-a-lifetime. Ok, took ME this long. Brian has been dying to tell the story from the second we returned. Sorry, B.


 Brian: No apologies needed!  Phil West of NASA's Johnson Space Center Communications and Public Affairs Office invited the two of us to make a presentation on how we started our blog and some of our "ah ha" moments.  I found it interesting that an organization famous for taking risks hadn't started its own blog.  Anyway, we both LUV to talk about the blog, and that alone was reason enough for making the trip. 

Angela: The presentation went well but I'll admit I was anxious to get through it because I knew that we were getting a behind-the-scenes tour immediately following...I just didn't know exactly how much behind-the-scenes it was going to be!


Brian: I had to pinch myself several times during the day to remind me of where we really were. The first time came before our presentation when I saw a wall hanging containing the electrical bus lights from Apollo 13 on a plaque from the Crew thanking the folks at Houston for getting them home safely. Another time was when we were at lunch, there was an astronaut a couple of tables over from us.


Angela: I half expected to see him eating space food from pouches labeled "Lasagna and breadsticks" - but he was eating normal stuff. Salad, I think. Good thing since those space suits are pretty tight.  

Brian: I didn't see any packages of Tang either, or am I so old that no one else remembers the importance of Tang to spaceflight?


Angela: What is Tang? Anyway, I know that everyone has different memories of NASA growing first memory was of the Challenger explosion in 1986. I was in third grade and I remember the teacher was crying.

Brian:  Well my perspective is a little different (am I THAT old?), having grown upwatching the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo flights.  I can remember the Crew of Apollo 8 reading from Genesis as they orbited the moon on Christmas Eve, 1968, and the whole world seemed to stop as it waited for Neil Armstrong of Apollo 11 to take that first small step for man on the moon a few months later.  Along with everyone else, I held my breath awaiting the return of Apollo 13. Speaking of Apollo 13...that was definitely one of the biggest highlights of the tour!


Could you feel the tingle when we walked into Apollo Mission Control? I sure did, and you could just feel the history and the memories in the empty room, which has been restored with the original consoles from the Apollo program. What did you think sitting in the Flight Director's chair?


Angela: That was incredibly cool. The funniest part was seeing the memo distribution center at each work station which consisted of those plastic bank cylinders. Our tour guide, Phil, said it stopped working properly due to too many packages of chips and burritos getting stuck in the tubes. From there, we made our way to the Training Center which houses true-to-size mockups of the space shuttles and space station.

Brian:  We made a fine pair with two bad knees hobbling around and crawling into tiny spaces and up narrow ladders. Although it will sound weird, and Angela, you know I am not "normal," but I found it interesting that Astronauts have to be trained on using the bathroom in space.


Angela: Uh, yeah...definitely not a lot of privacy if you know what I mean. I guess ya gotta do what ya gotta do.

Brian:  Hey, I'm not the only one fascinated with extraterrestrial body functions, but those will be limited to the International Space Station when the shuttles stop flying in 2010 so NASA can concentrate on Orion program, which will take men and women back to the moon.  The Orion mockup looked like an Apollo command capsule on steroids.  Speaking of Apollo, it's hard to imagine a whole generation, like yours, Angela, has grown up after the last moon flight.  As I kid, I would look up and wonder what it would be like to be on the moon.  After Apollo, I look up and wonder why it has been so long for us to return.  Do you look at the moon with wonder, or is it just a bright orb in the night sky?

Angela: Actually, I've been fascinated with space ever since my first science project when I made one of those solar system models. I think that screwed me up though...I still imagine Mars being approximately six inches from Saturn. Ok...let's get to the real meat of this story..our visit to Mission Control. Talk about being in the right place at the right time! The shuttle had made a failed landing attempt the day before, so the day of our visit, NASA had a few windows of opportunity to try and land it...


Brian:  And they did--and we were there to watch it! How many times have we seen pictures of Mission Control?  Yet it is still hard to believe that we were sitting in Mission Control watching the Shuttle Atlantis land at Edwards Air Force Base.  We were in the "Houston" of space talk with everything being controlled by the folks just a few feet away from us--that was one of the more surreal events of my life.

Angela: I think I held my breath the entire time. It was fascinating to watch the screen--they had the landing timed to the exact second. When it touched down, the whole room was dead silent and then we heard the Captain make contact with Mission Control and the flight director said "Welcome Home Shuttle Atlantis." The whole room errupted into applause. I still get chills thinking about it.


Brian:  That's an understatement!  We finished our fantastic day with a stop at the gigantic underwater training facility for space walks.  It's hard to see from the photo, but under the water is a mockup of the exterior of the Space Station. 


Angela: Unbelievable...which pretty much sums up the entire day...unbelievable. I know we could go on and on...I just want to say thanks to Phil and NASA for giving us a memory we'll hold on to forever.


For those of you old enough to remember, what were you doing on July 20, 1969 when man first walked upon another world.