For as long as I can remember, I have been intrigued with looking into the skies. I remember as a youngster laying on the porch or in the yard and staring off into the blue skies, following the clouds or planes as they passed overhead. I can stare at a full moon for hours just wondering what it would be like to walk on its surface.
Since I’m a realist, I realize that I have no chance in this life to experience a moonwalk or fly on Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic civilian space flights. However, I did get a pretty good substitute when I got an insider’s look at the NASA Johnson Space Centerin Houston.
One of the members of a church we were visiting in Houston is a senior engineer at NASA and he generously gave us a tour through the Space Shuttle training facility. The Houston training center is where the astronauts learn the ins and outs of going into space. Their training includes everything from how to put on their space suits (which cost 12 million dollars each) to making emergency exits from the shuttle aircraft.
Our guide told us that it is common to see astronauts moving about the floor doing various training exercises. However, he said we may not recognize them because they wouldn’t necessarily be dressed as astronauts. So, I questioned everybody that we met: “Are you an astronaut.” Unfortunately, “no” was always the answer I received. Not meeting a real live astronaut may have been the only disappointing thing that happened (or didn’t happen) that day.
During our tour we were allowed to go into the training module where the astronauts learn to flip all the switches that control the aircraft, which was really impressive. With so many switches, how do they remember which is which? From this same cockpit, they fly the shuttle and control the mechanical arm in the work bay. Just below the flight deck is a storage area, which is also where the astronauts sleep and go to the restroom. Really cool stuff.
The kids in our group were most impressed with the shuttle restroom. It was quite compact, smaller than a Johnny-on-the-Spot portable potty. The seat was very small, but adequate for its purpose. On either side of the seat are two L-shape bars, which rotate over the astronaut’s thighs to hold him/her appropriately in place. Don’t forget, the shuttle travels at 17,000 miles per hour and is in a zero gravity environment, which means it might not be easy to stay in place.
The adults snickered most at the restroom’s “rear-view” mirror, which is exactly that – a rear-view mirror. This particular tool helps the astronaut make sure his/her hygienic needs are adequately managed.
After the shuttle restroom, we had the opportunity to walk through the training module for the next section of the Space Lab. The Japanese science lab is the next section scheduled to be added to the Space Lab. I was probably most surprised at how small this section really is. I can’t imagine being confined to this small area for six months. And I’m guessing it seems much smaller when you realize you are surrounded by the vastness of outer space.
If you ever get to tour the Johnson Space Center, I would definitely recommend doing so.