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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.

Adventurer B
wow.... visiting Houston mission control just has to be right up there in that list of cool things to do! what a fantastic opportunity! thanks for sharing the experience and the pics! :o))) Raphael
Explorer A
I'm one of the ones who have always looked at the moon with wonder. Even yesterday morning I was flying from SAT to DAL and the full moon was just outside my window, nicely adorning the blended winglet. I grew up with NASA practically in my back yard, about a mile from Ellington Field where the Astronauts train in their T-38 jets. I guess living there near Johnson Space Center was something I kind of took for granted at the time, but now I look back and realize what a special place it is.
Aviator C
Raphael, It really is amazing to be in a location that has had such an effect of human history. Now, if I could just see a shuttle launch at the Cape. Paul, Those pictures of earth rise that were taken on the moon still give me goose pimples. I can't imagine what it would be like to walk on what truly is a foreign land. Blog Boy dreamin of space
Explorer C
The space program has always been of great interest to me. I met Neil Armstrong and remember watching him step on the moon at Boy Scout camp. I just filmed a T.V. show of my trip to Space Camp with the W.E.B. Dubois Academy of Cincinnati. Clips of some of my travel shows are on search smileytwins. We just posted a spoof about Star Trek from the 1960's show. I was stationed at IAH but did not know you could take tours of mission control in Houston.
Adventurer C
That sounds like one of those trips of a lifetime. I'm glad you got to go and thanks for sharing with us!
Explorer A
I think next time perhaps you should bring along some Employee bloggers on your lil' adventure!! 🙂
Frequent Flyer B
I think it would be awesome to go into space! I visited the NASA Space Center once & find it a really neat, informative place!
Adventurer A
Want to see an lunar clipse from a LUV Jet? Make sure you book a South to North or North to South flight. First, Fly on Feb 20th, Second, have your scheduled departure be at or after 7:50 PM CST. If you want to be airborne when the moon is in total eclipse, have your scheduled arrival be later than 9:05 PM CST. The umbral portion of the eclipse ends at 11:10 PM CST. Sit on the right side of the aircraft if traveling north. Sit on the left side of the aircraft if traveling south.
Frequent Flyer B
Angela, Tang is a drink. 🙂 Maybe you already know that. I don't see it sold anywhere now, but maybe it still is. I don't remember if I ever drank it, but remember hearing the name. I was in third grade when the Challenger exploded. At my school in 8th & 9th grades, there was an organization called Young Astronauts! Members got to tour the NASA Space Center. 🙂 I'm not from HOU & I've never lived there. Ahhh, I LUV blogging & reading the posts/comments; I really do, but I'm going to take a week long break from it.
Frequent Flyer B
Speaking of having a good time, as Angela and Brian obviously did at NASA's JSC, folks who watched today's episode of the CBS show "Sunday Morning", got to see firsthand several SWA Employees who have a good time every day that they go to work. The show had a feature about Southwest Airlines and its amazing Culture. They highlighted some of the history of the Company's growth and lack of seriousness, including a scene from "Malice in Dallas", which External Blog Boy excitedly attended several years ago. The show had interviews with Herb and Colleen, several Employees, and the authors of the famous SWA book "Nuts!". It was not a puff piece, but an honest look at what makes Southwest tick and what has made it successful. For a transcript of the show, check out this link: Congratulations to our favorite airline on the great press and well-deserved accolades! Kim External Blog Boy and SWA Cheerleader 🙂
Adventurer B
Brian, the closest I ever got to a launch was in french guyana, watching an Ariane V rocket launch... it turned night into day! A shuttle launch must be even more awesome... I hope I get to see one before the shuttle is decommissioned :o| Raphael