Remember how my previous post ended? Here’s a reminder:
I was lucky enough to have been able to get this through my dad’s friend who was immensely kind enough to take us on a tour around the actual Johnson Space Center – yes, because the Space Center Houston isn’t the real NASA working place. That’s an exhibition of what used to be the real center, plus, of course, legit artifacts and what not. Luckily, for an additional fee, anybody can do a private tour too.
The first place we visited was the old Mission Control Center, the one you visit during the tram tour, though this time we were on the other side of the glass! I got to sit on the actual desk where 30-something years ago real NASA men sat every hour of the day engaged in the Apollo missions and to keep in touch with the ISS since 1998. That’s also where the movie Apollo 11 was filmed – cool, right? Sadly, however, the authentic keyboards and chairs have had to be taken away because visitors kept on stealing them. Because pictures and videos are never enough…
The second place we visited was the current Mission Control Center. It was AWESOME. It’s very similar to the old one, the one you visit in the tram tour, but a totally different experience. It’s the kind of thing that you see in movies! Actually, it’s even better. Real people where doing real work, looking at real screens with graphs and numbers, talking to real men hanging around in space!! I can’t tell you how startstruck I was.
When I finally managed to come back to my senses, we quietly walked around the building for a little while (where we got to say hi to really nice people) and then left. It was time for the next big thing to happen!
A few minutes on the road and we got to our final destination: the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory. You have probably never heard of it, just like me before this, but I bet you have seen it at least once in a Discovery Channel or a National Geographic’s documentary. Located at the Sonny Carter Training Facility, the NBL houses one of the world’s largest indoor pools. Apparently, it can fill up to 9 olympic swimming pools!
Full-sized mockups of a few modules of the ISS are contained inside the water tank, which allows for the most realistic EVA (Extra-Vehicular Activity, i.e. spacewalks) tasks simulations to happen. Don’t be fooled by its appearance though! That is not your typical swimming pool where you can just jump right in. Astronauts need to actually get lowered inside the tank with a crane! The purpose of this particular pool is to simulate microgravity, just like the one astronauts experience in space. The water inside this tank, however, creates a slightly different atmosphere, where objects can easily be maintained still, but are hard to set in motion – a result of the large amount of drag exhibited by the water.
The physics happening inside that pool are much more complex than that, but I think this is enough an explanation for us muggles.
As if being there wasn’t enough, real astronauts where finishing their training right in that moment! You can see everything from the windows of the floor above, so the only thing you can do is watch and take pictures, which was a shame, because otherwise I would have definitely shouted some words of encouragement or something like ‘you guys are awesome!’ at them and asked for their autographs #nerdtalk.
What can I say… I couldn’t have asked for more. I had a brilliant day and would do it everyday if I could.
But tell me, dear reader, have you also had this great opportunity? If you have, then you definitely understand the excitement all over this and the previous post. But now, tell me more! I wanna know.