Going for out-of-this-world visit NASA: Space Center Houston is full of history, education and fun.

October 05, 1997|By Gaile Robinson | Gaile Robinson,FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM

If Space Center Houston is not currently on the top 10 list of places parents feel they have to take their children, it should be.

Even two worldly teens were impressed. "S'OK," they muttered in unison, bobbing their heads a few millimeters for emphasis.

The price of admission, $11.95 (adult fare), is a bargain by today's entertainment standards. A single ticket buys unlimited time in the Space Center Plaza -- a cavernous building filled with realistic space experiences, IMAX theater, a visit to the mission status center, a film shown in the Starship Gallery and two tours of the Johnson Space Center.

The tram tour is the only loser. After spending what seemed like hours in line (outside, middle of summer, in the Houston humidity) we were taken deep inside the grounds of NASA to a windowless office building. We climbed five flights of stairs to reach the Mission Control viewing theater, and were stranded there for 20 minutes.

At 4 o'clock on a weekday afternoon, the only thing going on in Mission Control -- the heartbeat of the U.S. space program -- was one guy sitting at his console, eating a fast-food burger.

"Bor-ing," proclaimed the teens.

Back at Space Center Plaza, the action picked up considerably.

Here, the kids were able to test their future-astronaut abilities in a manned maneuvering unit. They were given two minutes and a limited amount of fuel. The object: to repair a floating satellite and return to the ship without depleting their fuel supply.

After fixing the satellite and using all but 100 units of fuel, a commendable result, they raced to what looked like the video-arcade room. Here, parents and their kids patiently waited for a turn to land the shuttle or dock with a space station via video simulators.

Crashes were common, successful completions rare. The programs were challenging, and children tried time and again to master their landing techniques. For parents, the minutes crawled by; it was all too brief for the kids.

In the Kids Space Place, they strapped themselves into an Apollo module and weighed themselves on Mars. They touched a moon rock and explored a mock-up of a shuttle craft.

The challenges of living in space are demonstrated in a replica of the astronauts' living quarters. And there are facilities that display the answer to the most-asked question at the Space Center: "How do the astronauts go to the bathroom?"

There are scads of hands-on experiments and demonstrations around Space Plaza, and children as young as 2 and 3 find plenty of things to touch and over which to climb.

There are spacesuits displayed much like the first ladies' gowns, and photo displays, and breathtaking views of Earth. An enormous mural painted by astronaut Alan Bean depicts the exhilaration of Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon.

Jingoism is at a minimum. Most of the films and live entertainers keep their scripts focused on the challenges of discovery that the space program offers.

One of the teen travelers said that "being an astronaut might be cool."


Phone: 281-244-2100

Fax: 281-283-7724

Internet: www.jsc.nasa.gov

Pub Date: 10/05/97

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