Thursday, January 13, 2011

Powellhurst meets Houston

January 2011 010, originally uploaded by Martina.

One of the more fun things about traveling to Houston last week was getting the chance to visit NASA’S JOHNSON SPACE CENTER. This would have been cool on its own, but was made even more fun by the fact that my dad worked on the space program back in the 60’s. My childhood was peppered with stories about all the people who came to watch the rocket launches at the facility where he worked. Somewhere in a box, I have a letter he kept that was signed by some astronauts, thanking him for the blood he donated for one of their missions. He worked at Cape Kennedy (now Cape Canaveral), which was responsible for launching craft, whereas Houston serves as mission control once they’re in the air, but it was still exciting to see.

One of the cool things about the space center is that it’s not just a museum, but a living, working facility that is still involved in training and mission control. Of course, there are parts of the center that are clearly there solely for tourist purposes, but the ones that interested me most were the working areas, like the old control center.

I was born exactly four months before Neil Armstrong proclaimed to the world “Houston, the Eagle has landed.” It is amazing to me to think that within my lifetime man took his first steps on the lunar surface. I wonder sometimes the way we have messed things up here on earth if we really need to be establishing a presence on the rest of our solar system, but when you are standing there looking at that room, thinking about all of the planning, work and excitement that went into that first step, it is hard not to be impressed by it.

The funny thing about the facility (once you get past the tourist center) is how normal it looks. Except for the occasional tourist tram running by and the number of bicycles you see parked in front of the doors, it looks like any other office park. As it turns out, the bikes are provided to employees for use in getting around the campus. They offer a quicker means of transportation than walking that also saves on gas and is healthy for the employee too.

The bikes I saw all had baskets, which allowed me to imagine low level space couriers rushing super secret documents from one building to another. In my imagination, they just put a stack into the basket and set a moon rock on top, so the papers don’t go flying around willy-nilly. Imagination NASA can launch a man into space, but has not yet entered the internet age yet. This is good for space courier job security!

The other thing I noticed is that the trams all had advertising placards, like public busses do. The one I rode in had a number for the Discount Tire Co., which now makes me think of NASA as not just NASA but “NASA! Now sponsored by the Discount Tire Co.!” Maybe we could supplement all of our government projects and bodies in this way. “The Oval Office, brought to you by Nike! Just do it!” “The McDonald’s Department of Health and Human Services?” You get the picture. Think of all the tax dollars we could save if some corporations would help foot the bill. They already get too many breaks. It’s time to make them pull their weight!

But I’m getting off topic. Soon I’ll be ranting about lobbyists, and nobody wants that. The point here is that the Johnson Space Center is worth a visit, so you should go. Really. Right now. I mean it. The Internet will still be there when you get back. You know you want to! Get out and see something…

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