Embarking on captivating day trips from Austin is an exhilarating way to break free from the routine and explore the hidden gems scattered around this vibrant Texan city. Among the myriad of options, one destination stands out as a celestial adventure: the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston. Join us as we delve into an extraordinary day trip from Austin to this incredible facility, where history, science, and wonder seamlessly intertwine.
On our third day trip from Austin, the allure of NASA Houston beckoned us with the promise of a captivating experience. Both my friend Katja, a seasoned pilot at Condor Airlines, and I share a deep fascination for aviation and space exploration. We couldn’t have been more excited to embark on this thrilling adventure together, given our shared history with the airline. As we fastened our seatbelts for this celestial journey, the anticipation of what awaited us at the NASA Johnson Space Center only heightened our enthusiasm.
I’m not sure anymore which Highway we took on our day trip from Austin to Houston, but it’s pretty easy to get there.
You have multiple options to get to the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Click HERE (or on the map) for more detailed driving instruction
Driving time : about 3h 30m
Upon arrival we immediately noticed the shuttle (replica) Independence, mounted on top of the historic and original NASA 905 shuttle carrier aircraft outside, at Independence Plaza, in front of the NASA building.
It is possible to enter the shuttle replica Independence, and explore the giant plane.
Independence Plaza presented by Boeing is an international landmark. At this moment it is the only shuttle mounted on an SCA that the public can go inside.
We decided to save the best for last and check out this amazing aircraft out after finishing the inside tour.
Parking fee : 5$
(please check website as prices and tours might have changed)
Inside we immediately got an up-close look at some of the most amazing artifacts of human space exploration.
We didn’t take photos of everything, but the list is pretty impressive.
A few examples of the spacecrafts here:
The Apollo 17 Command Module
A full-size Skylab Training module
A Moon rock you can touch
Faith 7, the final Mercury spacecraft to go into orbit
The Curiosity Rover that landed on Mars
The Gemini V
The Lunar Roving Vehicle Trainer
Lunar Module LTA-8
After exploring the Starship Galaxy Exhibition, we hopped on the tram to see some pretty exciting stuff! We got a behind-the-scenes look at human space exploration.
First we did the Rocket Park Tour, and our absolute highlight was the Saturn V.
The Saturn V is the tallest, heaviest and most powerful rocket ever flown and primarily during the Apollo program to send Americans to the Moon. Also it’s one of only three of the remaining actual Saturn V rockets on display in the world.
The Saturn V rocket is 363 feet tall and the Apollo 4 mission in 1967 was its first un-crewed takeoff. When it’s fueled and ready for launch, the rocket weighs about 6.2 million pounds (2.8 million kg).
Between 1967 and 1973 the rocket launched 26 astronauts into space with six successful missions landing men on the Moon. And Saturn V also launched Skylab, America’s first space station, into orbit in its final mission.
Before we went inside again to the Astronauts Training Facility and the Mission Control Center, we drove by the Memorial Grove of trees planted in memory of fallen astronauts and mission control personnel.
NASA remembers all of these brave souls every year as part of their Day of Remembrance.
It felt like we were somewhere else all of a sudden, away from the modern space technologies, at this quiet and peaceful memorial park.
The NASA Tram Tour was included in our admission to Space Center Houston.
A NASA Tram Tour boarding pass is now required to take the NASA Tram Tour. There are two options to get a free boarding pass.
1) Download the free Space Center Houston app, tap the “Join tram virtual line” button and select the tour you want to take
2) Visit the Guest Services Desk at the entrance to Space Center Houston, and a crewmember will reserve your boarding pass.
One of my favorite parts of this tour was the moment we entered the iconic Christopher C. Kraft Mission Control and the Apollo Mission Control Center.
NASA led Gemini and Apollo missions from here, including the historic first lunar landing mission as well as early space shuttle missions. Being in the Mission Control Center and seeing all equipment they’re using, was incredible. The pictures don’t really do the Mission Control Center justice.
The next part of the tour took us to the Astronaut Trainings Facility. We walked on an elevated path through the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility in Building 9 This is the building where NASA astronauts train for current missions and where scientists and engineers are developing the next generation of space exploration vehicles.
There were a few International Space Station modules that help astronauts become familiarized with the space station in preparation for their mission.
And at the time we were there, we saw the Orion, NASA’s crewed space vehicle, which was being evaluated and tested by astronauts in Building 9 as engineers were finalizing Orion’s design.
That is a difficult question, because each area in the Astronaut Trainings Facility was pretty awesome, but..
The Valkyrie (on the last pictures) is always the first thing I remember about the Astronaut Trainings Facility Tour.
Valkyrie is one of the robotics projects, NASA’s next generation of humanoid robot also known as R5.
R5 features: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/r5/
Last but definitely not least was the Shuttle Replica Independence.
Even though it is a replica, it was very interesting to see the inside of the Shuttle. And not to forget the inside the historic and original NASA 905 shuttle carrier aircraft.
The Space Shuttle Independence, is a full-scale, high-fidelity replica of the Space Shuttle and the NASA 905 carried space shuttles 223 times and amassed 11,017 flight hours over 42 years.
It was a long day, we were very tired, and we still needed to drive back,
but the day trip from Austin to NASA Houston was well worth it.
We hope you enjoyed reading our blog and will be back soon with more day trips and outdoor fun!
We hope you had fun reading our blog, and you will follow us on our next adventures!
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