08 November 2014

Across the U.S., Day 33 - Houston (TX) to Dallas (TX)

Realistically, I don't think that Guido and I will necessarily visit Houston together sometimes in the future. There are just too many other places that are more worthwhile seeing in my opinion. With this perception in mind, I visited the Houston Space Center the first half of the day. Otherwise, I would have spared this for our joint trip.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Extra parking space required!

This is the official visitor center of NASA's Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. They show a replica of the full-size space shuttle, display artifacts of flown Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules and show movies on the history of America's space flight program. Today, I also touched a Moon rock. (At least, that's what they say the thing is. Pretty polished from all the admiration and touching!)

They also provide inside into a Lunar Module Trainer. I would have liked to get a feel for zero gravity. But darn, this was not an option.

Just kidding!

Every 30 minutes there are guided tram tours to the Mission Control Center where flight control for America's human space program is managed. They are also involved in the ISS (International Space Station) and currently have two Americans aboard the ISS, according to our guide. Additional videos show the work done at the ISS, for example at the Human Research Center and how/where they store all their blood, urine and other test samples. Studies are done on human nutrition, human metabolism and microgravity's impact on bone density and heart function. This reminded me of a study I had read earlier this year regarding how the shape of the heart changes in microgravity and its adverse effect on cardiac function.

Behind the scenes of the Mission Control Center

This room of the Mission Control Center is only used during weekdays. Therefore, we were allowed to take a look behind the scenes today.

The tour also stops at a building that houses the Saturn V Rocket. Between 1967 and 1973 it had carried 27 Apollo astronauts into space. These five engines provided power to lift Saturn V to an altitude of 41 miles in 2.5 minutes and a speed of 6,000 miles per hours.

Little Joe II (in the back), used to test
the Launch Escape System
in case of an emergency

What steps would need to be taken to develop an Earth-like atmosphere on Mars? The atmosphere composition would need to be changed e.g., to increase oxygen levels (0.13% on Mars vs. 21% on Earth, while CO2 levels on Mars are >95% vs. 0.038% on our planet). Mars' temperature is much too low for normal human life (average -81 F/-63 C vs. 57 F/14 C) and we would need to tinker with the atmospheric pressure. Bacteria und lichen could kick off the process by converting CO2 into O2, etc. and it would take approximately 1,000 years to create an Earth-like livable space.

Nah. While I agree that this is an interesting concept, I think we should first of all take better care of Mother Earth than contemplating to mess up just another planet.

I could have easily spend another hour or two in the Space Center but wanted to get on the road to Dallas. As it was already 2:30 pm, I took the interstate for the remaining 295 miles (~ 470 km) north.

Although 44 states in the U.S. ban texting while driving, only 13 states ban the hand-held cell phone use. OMG! Especially the south-eastern states I came through allow it. Wow! And it is heavily used by people, particularly women. What can possibly be soooo important that they have to be on the phone while driving??

Today's route

More to come.


  1. Thank you for the post on the Johnson Space Center. I haven't been there in over 35 years. I've spent some time there and also have a slide somewhere of the Space Shuttle Enterprise sitting on it's 747 at Edwards during the initial flight tests. I.e. seeing if it'll actually fly. That feels like a really long time ago...

    I like the comment about not messing up the earth before we talk about messing up another one.

    1. I remember when they brought one of the remaining Space Shuttles to the California Science Center in LA while another one was carried to the Smithsonian in D.C. They flew over the SF bay area. Unfortunately, at this time I was on my way to a work-related event and could not stop, wait and watch. ...

      Yes, isn't it true that no matter what we create, it comes with unintended consequences. On the other hand: no research/trial & error - no development of day-to-day amenities and what we call progress. It's certainly not an easy topic!

  2. I found the Hello Kitty Space doll quite scary. Please tell me you didn't buy one...

    +1 to what Richard said about your "messing up" comment. Well said.

    1. Uuuh, the Hello Kitty Space doll? No, no they all remained in their basket. To be picked up by some Asians or so. Or by Guido's sister. ;-)