Sunday, March 08, 2009

Neutral Buoyancy

"Houston, Tranquillity Base here, the Eagle has landed. - Neil Armstrong, transmitting from the Moon, 3:18 p.m. Houston time 20 July 1969."

Johnson Space Center is located about 25 miles from Houston. Johnson Space Center is used for mainly mission training and Mission Control. NASA has guided tours for general public. We chose to go on Level 9 Tour. This tour takes you inside the Mission control center! But the catch is, the tour is only during weekdays and not weekends! So me and my friends decided to "fall ill" during a weekday so that we can go on this tour. November 12th was the day we choose to reduce suspicion as it was mid week. Tickets had to be booked in advance as there are only 12 seats available for the tour.

Level 9 tour starts at around 11.30am and lasts till 5pm. We reached the Space center around 10.30 and get done with all the formalities. All the Level 9 tourists are given a NASA employee look-alike ID card to give an authentic look. Since there was time before the scheduled departure of the tour, we used that time to go around and checkout the exhibits.

Space shuttle's nose

As a security measure there is a photo session before the tour can commence. All 12 tourists were asked to board a mini bus for the tour, we were joined by a group of airline employees on a company sponsored trip. After the initial introduction the tour bus started its 4.5 hours trip around the NASA facility. Our first stop was building 3 for lunch. This is the Cafeteria for the employees. Sonny Carter Training Facility is our next stop. This is the Neutral Buoyancy training facility, the largest in the world. It can hold the entire 1:1 mock-up of the International Space Station.

Neutral Buoyancy Lab

As the name suggests, Neutral Buoyancy Lab is used to simulate Zero G, an essential component in a days work for the astronauts. Here the astronauts get a first hand experience in doing the most mundane task like walking under zero gravity! That is astronauts preparing for the next ISS mission.

Astronaut preparing

We are familiar with the Hubble Telescope and its breathtaking pictures it can take, now it was time to see the Hubble Telescope Mission control center itself.

Hubble control center

A mission control center controls everything about a mission. We have seen in many Hollywood spy movies, like James Bond's Die Another Day, when Gustav Graves tries to direct the beam from his satellite "Icarus" through the Minefield, such things are done from a mission control center in real life. Moving on, earlier we saw the astronauts preparing for their next space mission, now it was time to see the Mission Control of ISS.

ISS mission control

Finally the moment we were all waiting for, The Apollo Mission control center! This mission control center was used to control all the Apollo missions and the controversial Apollo 11 mission which land on the "Moon"

Apollo mission control

We get to see the technology of the Apollo era. Also we get to sit, where the Mission Director used to sit and pretend to control the whole mission! The mission control also has a replica of the American flag, that was "hoisted" on the lunar surface.

American Flag replica

Coming back to modern era, we never heading to the mock-up facility, then one of the co-passenger realized that India also has a moon mission and asked, "Hey, You guys have something on the Moon too, right?". It was quite a proud moment to be an Indian. It was just 3 days since the historic launch and the images of the launch and the video were fresh in our mind, and we enjoyed bragging about Chandrayaan! Another guy in the group saw us bragging and asked, "Does your space organization have such tours?". Sadly, we had to end the bragging and say the ISRO didnt have such public visits. I really wished ISRO did something like this, its such a morale booster for the youngsters.

The Space vehicle Mock-up facility has the 1:1 replica of all NASA space programs currently underway. Majority of the mock-ups were from International Space Station mission components. These mock-ups are used to train the astronauts before the missions.

ISS mock-up

Space spider!

That is a space spider to be sent to Mars for exploration! Our final stop on the tour was Rocket Park. This facility holds a Saturn V rocket from the canceled Apollo 18 mission. Apollo missions were stopped due to budget constraints.

Saturn V

After exploring the various stages of the Saturn V we returned to our starting point concluding our Level 9 tour. It was a memorable experience visiting Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center(JSC) and worth bunking office!


ಅಂತರ್ವಾಣಿ said...


yet another good and infomative article :)

I thought that NASA will not allow public to visit..

I really know u have got a very thrilling moment that day.!!

Shiva Kumar said...

Thanks :)

Public is allowed only to areas that do not have military or intelligence related research.