Nerd Talk Goes to NASA

Because duh.

February 21, 2017
Shuttle Independence outside Johnson Space Center

by Gregr

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I can’t say I have ever had much intention of going back to Texas - one trip as a kid was fine - but my pal Ed got stationed there for work for a year so we went to go cheer him up!

Houston, an astronaut’s psychiatrists where they can safely report all their problems, is usually just a humid, butt crack sweaty place, but thanks to the Johnson Space Center (and too much barbeque for one man to eat in a weekend) it was a total blast. Nerd Talk made it to one of the geekiest places on the planet.

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When you first turn in from NASA Parkway, you’ll see two mounted T-38 training jets welcoming your arrival before.. *POW*.. there’s a giant Boeing jumbo jet with a freakin’ space shuttle on its back! At this point, my entire car was giggling at me for being so stoked. My poor wife. When we have kids, she’s going to have to deal with their excitement and mine combined into one giant ball of super-excitement.

The JSC may be the coolest science center in the universe for learning about space stuff and the way our world works - imagine 10 Pacific Science Centers combined into one, only full of NASA stuff! The only bad part is that I barely played with any of it because I wanted to take the tour. I chose correctly. The 90-minute tour whisked us around the campus style layout of buildings where bikes are parked everywhere for engineers to use to get from building to building.

We stopped first at Space Vehicle Mockup Facility. It sounded cool from the recording on the tram, but I had no idea that my eyeballs would take in a full-size replica of the space modules of the International Space Station!

ISS Modules @ JSC

ISS Modules @ JSC

Check out this Soyuz capsule used to get astronauts, cosmonauts, japan-o-nauts to the space station.

Soyuz capsule @ JSC

Ever since we lamely killed the space shuttle program, we’ve relied on the Russians to ferry us there (space) and back. We’ll continue this reliance until NASA finishes our next human flight vehicle capsule and rocket system called Orion.

Orion space craft @ JSC

So rad. On the floor here, they also have a surface that sounds just like an air hockey board only big enough for astronauts to help with space walk training in low to no gravity. Oh, and then those creeps from DARPA have robots just hanging out like “look at me, I have a Boba Fett copy helmet on my dumb robot head.” NASA, why can’t you see how evil “helper” robots are - they’re not even disguising them like Han Solo, rather his bounty hunter nemesis.

NASA and DARPA making Boba Fett looking robots...

The next stop, a giant facility that is home to a refurbished Saturn V rocket. Look, I didn’t know what I was going to see when we walked in this door. I can’t remember another time in my life that a bit of human engineering stunned me this much. Lying on its side, the Saturn V rocket is more than 30 feet tall - that’s like stacking two giraffes atop one another!

Saturn V: Taller than two stacked giraffes

Five engines (the “V” of Saturn V) lifted the biggest human-rated rocket into orbit. This sucker is about as long as a football field from goal post to goal post and assembled in pieces.

Saturn V rocket is 111 meters long!

Stage 1 and 2 of Saturn V rocket

Saturn V rocket stage three

View from the command capsule to the main engines.

We spent a majority of our time on this tour and it was 100 percent worth it. You see other rockets, gadgets, and you are reminded that this campus is a government facility - it does not wow with its beauty, all of the magic is indeed in the space-worthy gadget.

Before we left, though spent of childlike wonder by this point, we made sure to grab a look at the space shuttle exhibit. My favorite part by far is the wind tunnel scale model they used in early tests.

Scale Shuttle model for wind tunnel testing

Then you pop outside and BAM! There it is the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft and its hump, the Shuttle replica Independence. Ok, so this is sort of a bummer. I thought we were going to see an actual space vessel. The carrier is legit. It flew shuttles from landing sites to Kennedy throughout the shuttle age. But the orca parked atop it is a museum replica, still cool, but kind of underwhelming. We did get to learn about how the airlock aboard the space shuttle works complete with shiney masked space suit!

This space suit is in the airlock aboard the replica shuttle Independence

There is a ton more stuff here from science experiments to an Apollo capsule, an Orion mockup and more. If we end up going back to Houston, I’m definitely headed back to Johnson Space Center to play around more and tour less! Nerd Talk gives JSC a 10/10 for awesomely nerdy adventures.

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