In retrospect, perhaps Saturday was not the best day to be a tourist at Space Center Houston, but we were pressed for time and that was really the only day we could go. Despite the big crowds, the experience was simply “out of this world” and leaving us wanting to learn more!
It was mid-October 2015. We had traveled down to Livingston, Texas from northern Nevada where we would become residents and register our many vehicles before heading to our next job with Amazon in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Upon arriving at the Escapees RV Park, Rainbow’s End, we noticed a giant crack in the windshield of our little blue car. It put a bit of a bend in our plans for an all day trip to the center. Luckily, there is a Safelite Auto Glass located just 2 miles away. We left the car there when they opened at 8 AM and made the trek on foot (despite Levi’s many urges to use Uber).
Where is the Space Center Located?
Space Center Houston and Lyndon B Johnson Space Center are located southeast of downtown Houston, about a 30-minute drive, just off of Interstate 45 on NASA Parkway. Opened in 1992, Space Center Houston is the official (and most recent) visitor’s center of Johnson Space Center.
One of ten NASA facilities in the United States, JSC was originally established in 1961 and earned its namesake 12 years later as a tribute to the Texas-native president. JSC sits on 1,620 acres of land dedicated to the training and research on everything space flight. The center has been the front-runner in projects like Gemini, Apollo, and Skylab. My family and I (Natalie) visited JSC in the early 80’s, and though I do not have too many memories of it, I have the proof of visitation on old slides somewhere in a box at my parents’ home.
What can Visitor’s Expect to See at the Space Center?
The visitor center, alone is massive and includes loads of interactive centers accompanied with artifacts used or developed during and because of NASA projects and expeditions. Exhibits are geared for all ages and include scheduled speakers, demonstrations, and hands-on experiences. There are approximately 400 artifacts as of late and the number continues to grow.
Perhaps the most popular attraction is the Tram Tour to Johnson Space Center. Lines lead to either the, more visited, Mission Control Center or the Astronaut Training Facility. Both tours visit the Rocket Park to view, among other space vehicles, a Saturn V Rocket. The latest exhibit (which was not yet completed on our visit) showcases a replica of the Independence mounted on the NASA 905 aircraft carrier.
Admission into the Center
Hours of operation include (central times) 10-5 Monday thru Friday and 9-7 Saturday and Sunday. These times may vary some weeks so check out their site for updates. Parking is $6. Admission is based on age and general admission ranges from $19.95-$24.95. Self-accessed audio tours, which I highly recommend, are available. Add about $7 on the ticket price for this. Cash and credit are accepted for all transactions, from the parking lot to the gift shops.
A map of the visitor’s center including a schedule of events and attractions are handed out to all ticket holders. The equipment for the audio tours can be accessed at the Information Desk to your right once you enter the visitor’s center. Locals or those seeking to explore more of what the center has to offer can opt for membership status. The price is about $5 over general admission and allows admission to the center for up to a year.
Final Thoughts about our Trip
Taking advantage of all Space Center Houston has to offer requires, I believe, more than a day’s visit, especially if you are going during busy periods: summer break, holidays, and weekends, We decided to forgo one tram tour since the lines were too long and missed out on stage productions and games/rides since we were across the way at another exhibit. There is so much information and discovery to digest in such a small amount of time. We did take a break at the food court, Zero-G Diner, where we had to take out a loan on two plates of chicken strips, fries, and an astronaut molded water bottle, but over-priced products should not be a surprise to visitors, especially for a popular sightseeing spot like Space Center Houston.
A word or two of advice: Wear comfortable walking shoes. Bottled water and light snacks help out the pocketbook. Take lots of pictures and if you are going to be frequenting Houston throughout the year, pay the few bucks more for annual membership. Exhibits are constantly being updated and every visit, I imagine, can only bring about more discovery!