Space Center Houston is a leading science and space learning center, the official visitor center of NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston and a Smithsonian Affiliate museum. Opened in 1992, it hosts more than 1 million visitors annually. The center holds more than 400 space artifacts as well as permanent and traveling exhibits, attractions, live shows and theaters all dedicated to preserving the history of America's human spaceflight program.
The center has extensive STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education programs for all ages and draws more than 200,000 students and teachers each year.
This artifact gallery tells the story of American spaceflight and includes three flown spacecraft, Moon rocks and a full-scale Skylab Trainer: Mercury 9 capsule (Faith 7) flown by Gordon Cooper, Gemini 5 capsule flown by Gordon Cooper and Pete Conrad, Apollo 17 Command Module America flown by Gene Cernan, Ronald Evans, and Dr. Harrison "Jack" Schmitt, along with a biological contingent of five mice, orbited the Moon a record 75 times and carried the participants of the last crewed Moon mission, Lunar Module test vehicle LTA-8, Lunar Roving Vehicle Trainer, Lunar Samples Vault, Lunar touchstone, one of only eight Moon rocks in the world that can be touched, Skylab 1-G Trainer, Apollo-Soyuz Test Project docking module trainer
These artifacts (except Skylab) were formerly housed in Johnson Space Center's former Visitor Center in Building 2.
Space Center Houston is the home of the one-of-a-kind Independence Plaza exhibit complex. This landmark attraction is the world's only Space Shuttle replica mounted on the original shuttle carrier aircraft and the only place where the public can enter both vehicles. The Space Shuttle replica Independence, formerly known as Explorer, previously was located at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex but was moved to make way for a new permanent attraction hall for Space Shuttle Atlantis. Independence is now displayed atop the retired Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, NASA 905.
On August 14, 2014, a heavy lift called The Rise of Independence was completed to place Independence on top of NASA 905. The plane was transported to Space Center Houston from Ellington Airport on April 30, 2014. The center opened the giant exhibit complex on January 23, 2016 at an estimated cost of US$15 million. The giant complex is the biggest project for Space Center Houston since opening in 1992.
The general public can visit Johnson Space Center only via Space Center Houston's open-air tram tour. The tour includes Building 30 (location of the Historic Mission Operations Control Room 2 and the Christopher C. Kraft Jr. Mission Control Center), Building 9 (location of the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility) and Rocket Park with a restored Saturn V rocket.
The first stage of this Saturn V rocket is from SA-514 (originally intended for the cancelled Apollo 19), the second stage from SA-515 (originally intended for the cancelled Apollo 20), and the third stage from SA-513, which was not needed after it was replaced by the Skylab workshop. SA-513 was originally scheduled for the cancelled Apollo 18 - the rest of the rocket was used for Skylab). The Apollo Command/Service Module CSM-115a (intended for Apollo 19) caps the pointy end. NASA displayed the restored Saturn V, on loan from the Smithsonian, outside from 1977 through 2004, when the Smithsonian took ownership. Grants from the National Park Service's Save America's Treasures program, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and private contributors funded the restoration.
The exhibit Mission Mars opened in January 2017 and was developed with the help of NASA. It focuses on the work NASA is doing now to plan for future travel to Mars. Mission Mars teaches visitors about the planet through a variety of activities that transport them to the Martian landscape, including a virtual reality wall, real-time weather forecasts and a Mars meteorite that guests can touch. Visitors also can see a full-size Orion linkresearch capsule, experience an Orion spacecraft simulator and get a look at the next generation of Mars rovers.
While at the Space Center, you can experience a variety of their other attractions including The Space Center Theater, a five-story tall 4k resolution theater that shows EVA 23 and Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo or the lectern that President John F. Kennedy used during his 1962 Rice University Stadium Speech.
If you're looking for the most comprehensive experience, be sure to book the Level 9 Tour, which is a 5 hour guided tour of all the above building and additional sites. Your driver and personal guide will take you to the Neutral Buoyancy Lab, the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility and the International Space Station Museum. For an up-close look at life as an astronaut, you can visit the Mission Briefing Center where they provide live presentations and real-time updates on current NASA Missions. You can even have "Lunch with an Astronaut" for an additional cost.
The Manned Space Flight Education Foundation's education department at Space Center Houston is among the nation's leading science-education resources. The programs are based on national science standards and focus on interactive science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) activities to inspire learning, and develop problem-solving and critical-thinking skills for all ages, especially as related to human spaceflight and exploration.
Cover image: "Houston, TX-NASA Space Center-Tram Ride walking tour (16)" by Cyndi and Dave licensed under CC BY 2.0. Information courtesy of Wikipedia.