Wednesday, February 2, 2011

It's Not Rocket Science

Wait a minute, yes it is! Everything you ever wanted to know about our space program and more is at Johnson Space Center. This huge center takes up more than 1600 acres and employs more than 14,000 people. The space program is managed here but there are no launches or landings. Space shuttle missions are monitored here and astronauts are trained here. Scientists and engineers study human adaptation to space, and develop technologies that will allow us to explore more of the universe. Some people think it's a terrible waste of money, but look at all the technology we have benefitted from as a result of the space program! Here is a just a sample list for starters:
cell phones, laser surveying, semiconductor chips, virtual reality, enriched baby food, water purification systems, scratch resistant lenses, digital imaging in breast biopsies, ear thermometers, automatic insulin pumps, joystick controllers (invented for the Mars Landing Rover), cordless tools, thermal gloves and boots, cataract surgery tools, microlasers, engine lubricants, invisible braces, emergency response robots, personal alarm systems, emergency rescue cutters, Doppler radar, lead poison detectors, robotic hands, studless winter tires, better brakes, MRI, TV satellite dishes, (Oh, YEAH! says E.) radiation insulation, pollution measurement devices, laser angioplasty, ultrasound skin damage assessment, ocular screening for children, programmable pacemaker, automated urinalysis, medical gas analyzers for operating rooms, athletic shoes (from moon boot technology) shock absorbing helmets, flat panel TV screens, "cool" weave sportswear for athletes and wannabee athletes like me, golf ball aerodynamics, portable coolers and warmers, and quartz crystal time technology and there's lots, lots more...Whew! Pretty amazing, hunh? And just think of all the people employed in different parts of the country that are connected to the space program and its subsidiaries! Did you know that in all of our 2.4 trillion dollar government budget, only .8% is devoted to the entire space program? Pretty good return of our investment, I'd say!
Blast off!

Mercury 7
Ok, the tour---The Houston Space Center is FULL of all kind of hands on, cool galleries, tram rides, movies and interesting exhibits. We spent most of yesterday, about five hours browsing the galleries, checking out the rockets, the simulators, playing in the children's section and taking a frigid tram tour that was half indoors and half outdoors. Here's a photo of Eldy bundled up in his sweatshirt. He looks like a hood from the hood! I had to resist pulling off his hood like I used to do with my middle school boys when they came to class looking like that. The wind on the tram ride was bone-chilling cold!
Mission Control Center
Eldy touching a moon rock! 

one stage of the Saturn V

We sat in the Mission Control room for the Apollo missions, where the wives and families sat watching the launches and communicating with their husbands in tiny private phone booths. We went to the hangar to see a real Saturn V rocket. We toured the Starship gallery and saw the original Mercury 7 capsule and the Sky Lab simulator. We touched a moon rock!  On the tram ride we went to different buildings at the Johnson Space Center. One of the buildings beside the Saturn rocket and the Mission Control Center was the lab where all the current simulators were. These are used to train the astronauts. The shuttle program is winding down, so we didn't see much activity as far as people in the lab using the facility, but it was still interesting to see what equipment and the actual mockups that are used to train the astronauts. They also had a swimming pool, the largest in the world where astronauts train in for the weightlessness of space. I thought it was interesting and worrisome for the astronauts that the they lose 1.5% of their bone mass for every 28 days out in space. There were several TV monitors running documentary loops with former astronauts talking about their experiences. I think it was Gene Cernan who said he didn't want to waste precious time sleeping because the experience of being on the moon was so amazing! The enthusiasm they had recounting their past experiences was cool! It made me want to get some books for the ipad to read and we are definitely going to rewatch the Apollo 13 movie with Tom Hanks.

Speaking of movies that we saw yesterday, we saw a couple of great video was all about the international space station. I believe I heard 14 countries are involved with building and expanding it, providing supplies and scientists to perform experiments and man it. I know that many people think this is a HUGE waste of money, but after seeing and hearing about all the inventions that have come out of this project and the robotics that are evolving from it as well, I felt differently having explored this facility yesterday. We really enjoyed our experience. For 14.95 a person (coupon found online) plus 6.00 for parking, we felt this was well worth it.
main shuttle engine
I didn't realize yesterday that our visit to the Space Center coincided with the anniversary date of the Columbia disaster, February 1, 2003, which had a huge effect on Texas, as much of it disintegrated over this state and into Louisiana. As the information lady stated at one of our tour stops, the astronauts live, eat, and work here in Houston. They are neighbors, churchgoers, and friends of the 14,000 people who work at the center. When something negative happens, it affects this town deeply.

This morning, I happened to talk to a lady who is staying at our RV park, and she recounted the day the  Columbia passed over her yard, the debris that rained down on Texas, and the gruesome details of finding the bits and pieces that so many Texans experienced for weeks after. That would be a difficult memory for anyone..I guess the job futures of so many of these people at the space center are in limbo. Are they going to get funding? Are the projects going to move forward? What's next for our space program? Is there going to be one? After touring this facility and seeing all the movies, video clips, actual rocket engines, rockets, wiring, robotics and training labs, I really hope that we will continue to explore and expand our knowledge through the space program. It really made me proud to be an American-- to see the program our country developed, to see the amazing things we did in space, and to see the amazing technology that came out of this program. And I just hope our school systems will continue to foster the creativity and intelligence it takes to become a scientist, an explorer and a dreamer to go beyond our capabilities, to stretch our minds to improve our existence here on planet Earth. And with that, 'nuff said!  I'll get off my soapbox now. Time to retire for bed!

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