Talk souvenirs from Houston, and my kids may get starry-eyed remembering the Neapolitan Astronaut Ice Cream Sandwich from Space Center Houston, an fantastic living museum home to over 400 things to see and do, including the fascinating NASA Tram Tour which gives a behind the scenes look at NASA Johnson Space Center (yes, of the “Houston, we’ve had a problem here” infamy)
Me? Any souvenir the makes a science out of a sandwich rules.
The freeze-dried ice cream, described as suspended animation, stays intact (it can last for years without refrigeration!) without the water. As you eat, your mouth, magic presto, rehydrates and restores it to its original state. If that isn’t enough, it’s just plain cool to eat astronaut food.
That coolness concept is something that comes up a lot.
“For me, what appeals about Space Center Houston is its ability to take such a hugely complex topic like space exploration and make it available, approachable and appreciable to everyone,” says Ed Ellingson, retired military who now works as a public relations consultant with the center, one of Houston’s most visited attractions and the most popular ticket for the Houston CITYPass program which handpicks and packages together top attractions at significant savings.
“You don’t have to be a dyed in the wool science and space fanatic to enjoy a visit here,” Mr Ellingson says.
The level of access you get here is amazing, and it’s the real thing, not artefacts, he says. So you can touch a real piece of Mars or a moon rock, and a shuttle tile from the original NASA 905 shuttle carrier aircraft as you explore the iconic (and Instagram worthy) landmark Independence Plaza.
Located down a leafy, tree-lined drive about 42 kilometres south of downtown Houston at 1601 NASA Parkway, the 250,000 square foot education complex has welcomed more than 20 million people since it opened in 1992, and hosts about one million visitors annually, inspiring wonder in space exploration. Its mission is to immerse, inspire and educate.
“There really are a lot of cool options for everyone to come spend their time at Space Center Houston, and special events, which one could plan their trip around,” Mr Ellingson says.
Here are six cool ways to experience Space Center Houston:
1. Plan a Level 9 VIP Tour, the ultimate, behind-the-scenes VIP experience of NASA Johnson Space Center, which in total takes around five hours. Visitors will see Mission Control, eat where astronauts eat, see where they train, and much more.
2. Take the included NASA Tram Tour—it’s seriously cool. Step into a seat on the white tram for a narrated tour around the grounds, with a stop at Rocket Park, home to Saturn V, the most powerful rocket ever built, and into the NASA Johnson Space Centre, to see where history was made at Mission Control.
3. Prep for a visit with a movie marathon about space exploration and then come to see not only real artifacts like spacecraft and spacesuits that have been on the moon, but also the ‘cathedral’ of space exploration, historic Mission Control—the facilities where today’s and tomorrow’s astronauts train and learn about our quest for the moon, Mr Ellingson says. Movie suggestions? Try Apollo 13; the Right Stuff; the Martian; the Dish, about Australia’s key contribution to the moon landing mission; and Hidden Figures.
4. Walk in the footsteps of the giants of space exploration. Historic Mission Control is a great place to start, but you can also walk the Orbiter Access Arm, literally in the footsteps of dozens of astronauts as it stands where they made their final steps on Earth before entering the shuttle orbiter and launching into space; or go inside the Skylab trainer where they prepared for duty aboard America’s first space station. You can even buy a flight suit to get into character and enjoy the day.
5. Send your kids (or come yourself) to one of the world-class education programs. “From day camps to week-long Space Center University, the centre can help you on your way down the STEM pathway. Space Center U will even take you to the Neutral Buoyancy Lab, where NASA astronauts train underwater in their spacesuits, in the closest simulation to microgravity possible on Earth. Then you put on SCUBA gear and get in a pool, simulating some of the very training they get to do, like building a mock airlock underwater. Students also learn and experiment with thermal and cryogenic shield design, rocketry and more.”
6. Best lunch date ever? How about calling ahead and booking the Lunch With an Astronaut program where you can chat with and hear stories direct from a NASA astronaut, and then leave the experience with a personalised photograph as a memento.