Tuesday 7 November 2017

Rocket Park is FREE!

Nasa used to build rockets on the west coast and launch them from Florida, but they put mission control in Houston as a money making exercise for the state of Texas. They’ve done something very similar with the visitors' centre.

When I went to Houston I thought I wanted to go and see Nasa.

The visitors centre is expensive and not that good. They do have some really cool things there (used lunar capsules, space suits, a spare skylab, an elderly jumbo jet that was modified to give piggy-back-rides to space shuttles, JFK's lectern, the ruggedest suitcase the world has known…) but it’s organised to make things difficult to see - possibly on purpose.

The lighting is so terrible that you're either blinded by the glare off the display cases or you're stumbling around in gloom. The signs are misleading. Neither of these for example welcomes you in to the spare skylab.

But one of them is the way in!

Some of the best exhibits are strung up from the ceiling so that you can’t look in them.  A lot of the floor space is given over to soft play, childish demonstrations, dioramas, audio-visual presentations and games.

Nowhere but nowhere does it tell you that you need to book a ticket for the tram to be able to see the best exhibits (until you’ve queued up for the tram). The cynic in me thinks that they want you to spend time and money in their gift shops and restaurants.

The tram tour opens up the best bit of the day. You get shepherded around like so many animals and you get to see the original mission control room, an astronaut training facility, and then eventually the main event.

The best exhibit is the rocket motors, a Mercury rocket, and a Saturn V rocket. They save it until last, but confusingly they are hidden away in a large public park with a free car-park.

My brother and I spent a full day and a fair bit of money going to Nasa-Houston visitors centre, but what we actually wanted to go to was “Rocket Park” next door. It is made deliberately difficult to find, it’s not advertised anywhere and there’s a sentry with a gun, but it is actually public and free! It’s owned and operated by The Smithsonian and once you get there it’s quite brilliant.

If you go to Nasa-Houston my advice is to take a torch, and find the tram tickets first. If you want to see the rockets, find “Rocket Park” and go there instead. Tell the man with the gun that that’s where you’re going and he will cheerfully direct you to the car park.


Richard “Houston we have a problem” B

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