August 27, 2009

Johnson Space Center - Houston, TX

No visit to Space Center Houston would be complete without the NASA Tram Tour of the Johnson Space Center. The Space Center covers more than 1,600 acres and employs 14,000 people. The federal facility houses Mission Control where astronauts are trained and the Space Shuttle program is managed. We had an opportunity to see the real mission control, but it was largely empty on the weekend. Although in another room, there were people communicating with the International Space Station. The employees include contractors, civil servants, and doctors.

In another area, we saw the Saturn V Complex at Rocket Park. It was amazing. When you see the rockets and shuttles on television, it really doesn't do justice to how truly big the whole thing is. However, the majority of it is fuel. The actual shuttle where the astronauts are housed is a small cramped space.

I was so amazed by the sheer size of the fuel tanks, I had to know just how much fuel it took to get into space. Luckily, the Kennedy Space Center gave me the answer, "At liftoff, an orbiter and External Tank carry 835,958 gallons of the principle liquid propellants: hydrogen, oxygen, hydrazine, monomethylhydrazine, and nitrogen tetroxide. The total weight is 1,607,185 pounds." To put that in context, let's say your car holds 16 gallons of fuel at a time and you refuel once a week. You could drive around for almost a year with the amount of fuel it takes to launch a space shuttle. That means in an eight minute launch, a space shuttle could use as much fuel as you do in a year! (That is, if your car ran on hydrogen, oxygen, hydrazine, monomethylhydrazine, and nitrogen tetroxide.)

The Johnson Space Center is an absolutely inspiring example of human ingenuity and invention. The sheer magnitude of what has been invented to allow space travel along with massive manpower required to maintain it is staggering. It shows an incredible dedication to higher cause of science, knowledge and exploration. Currently, researchers on the International Space Station are conducting experiments and asking questions we could never do on Earth. Along the wall of the Saturn V Complex, there are signs about past missions and astronauts you can read as you walk along the shuttle. You get a sense of how far we have really come and all we have achieved. More than that, you have such hope and inspiration for how much farther we could go.


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