March 30th, 2015 | Written by Ron Sparkman
The path to the Space Center can feel like an arduous journey at times. Friend and photographer David Gifford and I made the molasses-slow trek through the downtown traffic in Houston, hoping for a miracle. My GPS continually updated to give us a better route, only for the new path to be immediately usurped by techies like ourselves. As soon as we saw the sign for Nasa 1 though, it was all worth it. My excitement levels shot through the roof like a ten year old on Christmas morning, hell-bent that that new Sega CD game was sitting under the tree. This would be my second time at NASA and my first time with dual duties of writer and photographer of Upportunity. Oh…and there was that whole thing about a man going to space for a year. No big deal!
NASA tries its hardest to absorb you in its atmosphere from as soon as you pull on the grounds. Jets greet you at the entrance and as you enter parking, you get your first views of Texas’s newest landmark, a shuttle replica known as Independence. If you ever went to Kennedy Space Center back in the 90’s, you would’ve seen the same ship but under a different moniker, Explorer. Now at home in Houston, Independence is a startling sight for kids of all ages. The childlike excitement that ignites in you will only be further flamed once walking through the doors at NASA. Tickets are reasonably priced at 23.95, and 18.95 for kids, but you can get a discount of $3.00 off if you buy online. I also recommend the upgrade of a few dollars for the audio guide from an astronaut. It’s easy to follow and gives a ton of great information on the premises.
This was my second visit to NASA, so I was surprised to find that the exhibits in the main hall change over time. My two favorite passions besides space science are paleontology and film, ESPECIALLY movies about nerdy stuff from my childhood. So it almost goes without saying how pleasantly surprised I was to see a dinosaur exhibit front and center. And not two seconds after cutting the corner around it, you walk straight into frackin’ BumbleBee! He towered over us in a very lifelike display of pure awesome. I love that the Space Center is willing to explore sciences and interests beyond just space. There’s not a kid in the world that loves space but dislikes Transformers. They are the coolest aliens ever. The room felt like my childhood come alive. I was certainly abuzz by the time I was ready to head over to the theater. One thing I noticed though, was that they do the same pieces showcased on the outskirts of the main floor. Engines, spacesuits, Spock’s Shuttle Craft…wait. WHAT?!
Well, that’s new! I’m not sure if this was there for a tribute to the late actor or not, but if so, bravo, NASA! Either way, to be a lifelong Trek nerd and to stumble onto this display was a treat. And it was perfectly placed right by the theater so everyone in line was snapping shot after shot of this iconic film piece. What better to inspire people before seeing the live launch of a “Year In Space” flight with NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, a man who was boldly going where no one had gone before?! The energy in line for the theater was electric! Behind me, a group of young science nerds yodeled in their best Chewbacca voices, which started a wave of imitations throughout the line answering their call. That’ll put a smile on any kid’s face, especially one as big as mine. As we entered the completely full theater, we were fortunate enough to have an NASA astronaut tell us of his time in space, and give us a look into what our astronaut would be facing on this unprecedented challenge. He was a wonderful representative of the NASA program and how well they communicate space to the masses. As his story wrapped up, we were then treated to the show of the day as Kelly, escorted by Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka, went off without a hitch and the audience roared with thunderous applause! The excitement in the air was palpable and it was really something to share in part of such a momentous occasion.
After leaving a room with such an electricity in the air, we made our only mistake of the day: we sat and ate. Now I’m not saying the food wasn’t good, on the contrary, I was surprised at the quality of the burger I had. No, our mistake was in sitting to eat before realizing what time it was, so we missed the very last tour of the day! I was sad at the time but realized I’d live to see another day. I plan on going back for the full four hour VIP tour as soon as possible. NASA is always a spectacular experience. Take the road trip, hop a plane, do whatever you do. This Disneyland for space nerds is a must see for anyone that looks up to the sky and dreams of other worlds. They are making all of our dreams come true.