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Blog #935

Apollo 11 Landing 50th Anniversary - 7/20/2019

This morning Sarah and I started our day with a side trip to Kemah Boardwalk in Kemah, Texas.  It is a small town on the shore of Galveston Bay southeast of Houston.  The boardwalk is home to a handful of amusement rides, including one roller coaster.  And that was our goal, to get one more coaster credit.  Boardwalk Bullet is a Gravity Group designed wooden coaster which opened in 2007.  The twisting layout has a record 42 crossovers.

Boardwalk Bullet

Click here to see my pictures from Kemah Boardwalk.

We arrived shortly after 10am and waited for the rides to open at 10:30.  When they began to sell tickets the coaster hadn’t finished its morning testing, so they wouldn’t sell us tickets just yet.  We casually strolled around the area taking in the sights and sounds.  For the next hour we only saw them test the trains three or four times, so we decided to give up on riding the coaster and head on over to Space Center Houston.

We arrived at noon at Space Center Houston which is the visitor center for Johnson Space Center.  Sarah had already purchased our golden tickets which gave us full access to the day’s events.  Sarah suggested that we take the tram tours soon, in case they would be booked up later in the day.  The first tram took us to Rocket Park where we then departed onto other trams for two seperate tours on the Johnson grounds.

The first tram tour was to Orion Mission Control.  Building 30 of the Johnson Space Center is the Christopher C. Kraft Jr. Mission Control Center.  There are multiple control rooms within the building, including the Apollo control room and the International Space Station control room.  Normally, the tram tour visits the Apollo control room, but since this was the 50th anniversary of the moon landing it was only open to VIPs.  As an alternative, we toured Orion Mission Control.  As the Orion is not currently flying, the control room was configured for the ISS for training and backup purposes.

Orion Mission Control

As we left the building I looking through the window of another door and could see what appeared to be around darkened control room, which means there are at least four control rooms in Building 30.

Once back at Rocket Park we joined another tram tour to the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility.  The huge facility houses several Space Shuttle, Orion, and Boeing Starliner mockups, as well as mockups of major modules of the International Space Station.  These are used for astronaut training and systems familiarization.There are rover prototypes and other robotics projects.

Space Vehicle Mockup Facility

Along the ride on the trams they told us about the numerous bicycles that were scattered around the NASA parking lots.  These were donated by Schwinn in the 1960s.  Employees use these to travel from building to building and to and from their cars as they arrive and leave work.  Johnson is a sprawling facility with many buildings.  It is layed out much like a college campus, as the land was donated by Rice University with the understanding that if NASA failed the land and its buildings would revert back to Rice.

Also during the tour they pointed out some of the 250 deer that freely roam the grounds.  This is due to the fact that the facility is also a wildlife preserve.

The tram tours returned us to Rocket Park where we viewed the Little Joe and Redstone rockets.  But the main attraction was the restored Saturn V which is displayed inside its own building.

Saturn V

We took the tram back to Space Center Houston where we got a bite to eat before checking out the exhibitions.  The most notable exhibits include Mercury 9 capsule (Faith 7) flown by Gordon Cooper, Gemini 5 capsule flown by Gordon Cooper and Pete Conrad, and Apollo 17 Command Module America flown by Gene Cernan, Ronald Evans, and Dr. Harrison "Jack" Schmitt.

Apollo 17 Command Module America

We braved the hordes of visitors at the gift shop.  And then found a bench to rest on before we headed outside to the evening’s concert and events.

The concert was held the empty main parking lot of the visitor center with the NASA N905NA Shuttle Carrier Aircraft and mockup space shuttle Independence as a backdrop to the stage.  As the sun slowly set Sarah and I found a good spot to watch the concert.  At 8:00 Phillip Phillips took to the stage.

Phillip Phillips

I had missed his performances on American Idol and tonight I was very impressed with his show.  He is very talented and put on a great and entertaining performance.

Just before 9:30 Walk The Moon began their first set.  I knew the band but I wasn’t completely familiar with all of their songs.  I was pleasantly surprised that I recognized nearly all of them.  I guess my years of listening to Alt Nation on satellite radio has paid off.

At about 9:45 the band took a break for the space center’s event Countdown to Touchdown.  As I discussed with Sarah just before the presentation, the title is a little misleading.  The lunar lander touched down at 20:17 UTC which was the “The Eagle has landed” moment and Armstrong’s first stepped onto the lunar surface at 02:56 UTC, the “one giant leap” moment.  This was a span of about six and a half hours.  So here in Houston the precise moment of the first step was celebrated at 9:56pm.  The moment was commemorated by a speeches by politicians and video presentation that culminated with fireworks at precisely 9:56.


Walk the Moon returned to the stage to play for nearly another hour before wrapping up at around 11.

Walk the Moon

Click here to see all of my photos from the Johnson Space Center.

Sarah and I made our way out of the space center and its parking lot where we caught our ride-share back to Rice.  It was a long, hot and sweaty day but well worth it to see NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Space Center Houston, two great musical acts and to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s lunar landing. Thank you Sarah for a wonderful day.

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