So we’ve seen a lot of rockets this year, and have been to Kennedy several times in the past. But still, a trip to Space Center Houston was in order. (What else do you expect from a girl who has a tattoo of the space shuttle?!) We had such a good time, we went twice. And we were only in Houston for one week!
My first tip: buy a membership online before you go. It’s only about $5 more than regular admission, which you’d have to pay for parking anyway. We showed the parking attendant a PDF receipt on the iPhone and it worked just fine. Then at the entrance, you can skip the ticket lines and show that same PDF at the turnstiles inside. Visit the Membership desk to get your membership card, and use that for a discount at the shops and cafe. And now you can visit again and again, all year long!
My second tip: reserve timed tickets for the tram tours, which take you over to Johnson Space Center. We visited on a Sunday and a weekday, and both days had long lines for the tours. The timed ticket is like a Disney FastPass and pushes you to the front of the line. You can reserve them online for free! While the exhibits and presentations in the main galleries are fantastic, the tram tours offer a unique connection to the history of JSC and an awesome behind-the-scenes look at modern space missions. Don’t skip the tours, they are amazing! Dare I say it…they are stellar!
We took all 3 tours. One goes to historic mission control, one to modern mission control, and one to an astronaut training center. All three tours conclude with a stop at Rocket Park, which features a Saturn V rocket. A neat thing about visiting the mission control rooms: the galleries you sit in were not built for tourists — these are the same galleries used by astronauts’ families, heads of state, and other VIPs during launches and missions!
On the drive to Alamogordo, we passed a sign for a Space Murals Museum—on the NASA Road exit. How could we pass that up?!
This place is worth a stop. Besides the beautiful murals and rocket shells outside, the museum is jam-packed with artifacts, photos, patches, models, etc, collected by a local man over the years.
Down the road is the White Sands Missile Range. A lot of research and testing in the early days of the space program was conducted at White Sands. And in the early 80s, the space shuttle landed at the airstrip here. (“Not White Plains! White Sands!” #spacecamp #jinxandmaxfriendsforever)
The rocket and aircraft garden and museum are both free. Maybe try to visit when there’s not a crazy storm coming down from the mountains.
On the other side of town is the New Mexico Museum of Space History. They also have a rocket garden, and the museum is large and full of neat exhibits. And there’s a great view of Alamogordo from up there!
This is a fun museum. There are planetarium shows and a few hands-on areas. One was a small platform that you stand on to feel the rumble of a rocket launch. It was loud! There was also a simulator for landing the space shuttle. Nailed it!
And last but not least…
Complex 571-7 is now home to the Titan Missile Museum. This site held a Titan II missile on 24-hour alert from 1963 to 1987. This tour is awesome! The guides are very knowledgeable and took us all over the complex.
After entering the Access Portal, we took the stairs down 35 feet underground to the Blast Lock Area. Each pair of blast doors had interlocks, so that one had to be closed before the next was opened.
Then we were taken to the Launch Control Center, where our guide explained all the equipment, talked about the duties of the crew, and took us through the process of launching a missile (just 58 seconds!). The station was manned 24-7 by a 4 person crew, and the only place a person was allowed to be alone was in the crew quarters.
The red locker held the launch codes. The Titan II was the most powerful ICBM built by the US. In about a half-hour, the 9-megaton warhead could reach targets 6000 miles away. Thankfully, no one ever had to access those launch codes.
The Control Center was designed to withstand a nuclear blast and was basically a hanging cage underground. Gigantic springs would have absorbed some of the shock of a blast.
After the Control Center, we walked across the Cableway to the Decontamination Area and the Launch Silo.
Then we walked back through the Cableway and climbed the stairs to exit the Access Portal. The Silo door is open and you can see the missile from above. There are lots of signs explaining the history of the Titan II missile, the various radar and communications systems, and engines on display.
Although the Titan II was built for destruction, it was also used to launch satellites, probes to Mars, and the Gemini astronauts into space.