“Houston we’ve had a problem”

Apollo program insignia nasa
Apollo program insignia

The words “Houston we’ve had a problem” were spoken by astronaut Commander James A. Lovell on April 13th, 1970 during a failed NASA mission to the Moon aboard Apollo XIII (this was the seventh manned mission in the Apollo program and intended to be the third landing on the Moon until an oxygen tank burst 2 days after takeoff resulting in damage to a service module that was essential to the operations of the command module and causing the mission to be aborted). Those words were relayed back to the very control room you can see today on the “Historic Control Room tour” at NASA’s Johnson Space Centre on the outskirts of Houston, Texas.

The historic mission control room was used from 1965 to 1992 and is today a National Historic Landmark. The modern control rooms still used at the centre command NASA space missions and activity aboard the International Space Station.

Historic Mission Control NASA Johnson Space Centre
A National Historic Landmark
Historic Mission Control NASA Houston Johnson Space Centre
Historic Mission Control
Historic Mission Control JSC NASA Houston TX
Historic Mission Control
NASA Man on the Moon
Man on the Moon

Between the Johnson Space Centre (space mission control, training and development centre) and Space Centre Houston (museum) you can see many NASA space travel artifacts that paved the way for man to land on the moon and conduct regular missions into space. These include various early space capsules and a replica of the Space Shuttle which is known as “Explorer” (prior to the retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet in 2011 this was on display at the Kennedy Space Centre Visitor Complex in Florida).

Faith 7 Mercury capsule (1963)
Faith 7 Mercury capsule (1963)
NASA Gemini 5 Capsule (1965)
Gemini 5 Capsule (1965)
NASA Apollo XVII Command Module (1972)
Apollo XVII Command Module (1972)
Space Shuttle replica Explorer
Space Shuttle “Explorer”

The big ticket item at Johnson Space Centre  is the mighty Saturn V multi-staged liquid fuelled rocket. This is the space vehicle that took man to the Moon and back on the Apollo missions between 1967 – 1972  (first flight 1967, first manned flight 1968, Moon landings 1969 – 1972) and also launched the Skylab space station (3 missions between 1973 – 1974).

Apollo XI (1969) - Armstrong, Collins & Aldrin
Apollo XI (1969) – Armstrong, Collins & Aldrin
Apollo XI Takeoff 1969 (Photo Source: NASA)
Apollo XI Takeoff 1969 (Photo Source: NASA)
Skylab 1973 (Photo Source: NASA)
Skylab 1973 (Photo Source: NASA)

Skylab was in the Earth’s orbit from 1973 to 1979. I remember the demise of Skylab well, as parts of it crashed upon Western Australia and it made news right across the country! The training facility used by the Astronauts who served upon Skylab is also on display at the Space Centre Houston.

NASA Skylab Training Facility Houston
Skylab Training Facility
NASA Skylab Training Facility
Inside the Skylab Training Facility
NASA Crew quarters - Skylab Training Facility Houston
Crew quarters – Skylab Training Facility

Walking around the Saturn V rocket you can not help but be overwhelmed by its size (363.0 feet / 110.6 metres long and 33.0 feet / 10.1 metres in diameter) and sheer power (the first stage of the rocket could produce 7,648,000 pounds of thrust)! 1960’s technology at it’s best!

The Saturn V @ the Rocket Park in the Johnson Space Centre
The Saturn V @ the Rocket Park in the Johnson Space Centre
Apollo XI Takeoff 1969 (Photo Source: NASA)
Apollo XI Takeoff 1969 (Photo Source: NASA)

While there do not miss the tour to the Astronaut training facility in the Johnson Space Centre, where you can see a mock-up International Space Station (ISS) a Russian Soyuz rocket and capsule, which with the retirement of the Space Shuttle is the current means of sending crew and supplies to the ISS. Although retired, there is also still part of a Space Shuttle training module in the facility along with various training areas that Astronauts use in preparation for travel into space.

International Space Station training facility NASA JSC
International Space Station training facility – the Soyuz and Space Shuttle training modules can also be seen in the background
International Space Station training facility NASA Johnson Space Centre
International Space Station training facility
International Space Station training facility NASA Johnson Space Centre Houston TX
International Space Station training facility
Soyuz training facility NASA Johnson Space Centre
Soyuz training facility

Within the Astronaut training facility there is also a training version of the future Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. Orion is being developed to bring NASA back to the forefront of space travel and will enable Astronauts to travel beyond a low Earth orbit to destinations such as the Moon, asteroids and even Mars.

NASA Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle
Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle

Orion will be launched into space by NASA’s proposed Space Launch System (SLS) which is a heavy lift launch vehicle and kind of like a cross between the Saturn V rocket and the Space Shuttle launch system. The design is planned to be operated as a crewed version and an even larger cargo version.

A concept image of the future Space Launch System  NASA
A concept image of the future Space Launch System (Image Source: NASA)
The crewed version of the planned NASA Space Launch System
The crewed version of the planned Space Launch System (Image Source: NASA)

An interesting highlight of my visit to the Astronaut training facility was seeing a number of new experimental vehicles for use by Astronauts on the surface of the Moon and potentially Mars some day. Now that’s something I would like to see in my lifetime, mankind on the surface of Mars!

The future of Moon buggy design NASA
The future of Moon buggy design
lunar vehicle design NASA Johnson Space Centre
Another lunar vehicle design
NASA Moon Buggy
The past: a 1970’s Moon Buggy
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