Wednesday, January 16, 2013


Monday, 14th January 2013 – We were spending the whole day in Houston and the weather decided that it would finally snap and actually spend some time as winter… I think the top was 4 or 5oC. Our first destination for the day was the Johnson Space Centre where NASA maintains the control room for all space missions.
The cool thing for me about the visit was the update on the Curiosity Rover on Mars and what it was doing up there. Apparently it has a friend rover on Mars – the poor little Spirit arrived on Mars in 2004 but unfortunately froze to death in 2010 during the Martian winter when he got stuck on a rock and was unable to move his solar panels around to collect enough sun to power him and ‘died’. But the rover Opportunity is still grooving around on Mars and actually helped the Curiosity mission team pick the best spot for his landing. It was all really fascinating actually! You can follow Curiosity’s progress at - I will be! Inside the Johnson Space Centre, there are lots of experiments you can do and many of them incorporate the Angry Birds Space game as it was developed in conjunction with NASA!
According to the blurb, game developers incorporated concepts of human space exploration into the game. From the weightlessness of space to the gravity wells of nearby planets, players use physics as they explore the various levels of the game set both on planets and in microgravity. Angry Birds is educational!! We also took the tram ride to Building 30 which were NASA still manages many space missions including monitoring the current astronauts up in the International Space Station.
NASA Mission Control
They allow you into the refurbished mission control that was used up until the end of the Space Shuttles but was set up to look like it did when they were managing the Apollo 11 landing on the moon in July 1969. The next stop on the tram tour was the Rocket Field with actual rockets used to fire into space with the absolutely humongous Saturn 5 rocket built in the 60’s housed in a hangar.

And since we were in Houston, there was much quoting of Apollo 13 “Houston we have a problem”! Despite freezing our little butts off, the visit to the Johnson Space Centre was ‘out of this world’!
The Houston Galleria Skating Rink
Skirting the outer parts of Houston (which recently overtook Chicago as America’s third largest city), we drove to the Galleria which, continuing the theme of ‘it’s bigger in Texas’, is one of the country’s largest shopping malls. So large that there are numerous hotels including the Westin and Sheraton connecting directly into it… It is open until 9pm every night so we resisted the urge to throw on some ice skates and partake in some ‘freestyling’ on the blades and contented ourselves with shopping! As it is winter here, there were some amaaaaaazing sales on winter clothes to make way for their summer styles. Shopping Part 1 completed, it was home to the hotel for an early night, pack and get ready for our drive across the border to Louisiana. We didn’t get to see much of Houston except for loop roads and freeways on this trip – guess it means we will have to come back!!
And of course, here are some fun facts about Houston:
  • Houston was the first word spoken from the moon - The Apollo 11 mission established a place in history for the city when astronaut Neil Armstrong spoke the now-famous line, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” 
  • Strange but true: It is illegal to sell Limburger cheese on Sundays in Houston.  
  • At 634 square miles, the City of Houston could contain the cities of New York, Washington, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Minneapolis and Miami.
  • The first successful human heart transplant was performed in Houston by Dr. Denton Cooley (1968). 

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