I received a message recently from Anson Brantley, Operations Manager at Space Center Houston, the official visitor's center of NASA's Johnson Space Center, about some "all new" exhibits and tours that he wanted to share with collectSPACE. Intrigued, I arranged to meet with him today.
The theme for the new and revised attractions is NASA's Constellation program and its Orion and Ares vehicles. Instead of treating them as separate subjects however, Space Center Houston's approach has been to nicely blend the history of the space program with the plans for the future.
For example, all new audio tracks have been recorded for both the self-guided exhibits tour and the tram tour that brings visitors to locations inside Johnson Space Center. Moonwalkers Gene Cernan and Alan Bean, shuttle astronauts Mark Kelly, Mike Fossum, Bob Cabana and Bob Curbeam, flight director Gene Kranz, Orion project director Skip Hatfield and space station residents Clay Anderson and Suni Williams (the latter recorded from on-orbit) provide all new narration that describes the on-going work to return Americans to the Moon. And while the tram tour doesn't include any new stops (yet), the audio does make a point of highlighting Constellation facilities along the way.
During my visit, we met with Paul Spana, Exhibits Manager for Space Center Houston, who shared another new display now in development. Soon, visitors to Space Center Houston will be greeted with a full scale mockup of the Orion spacecraft, along with smaller models of the Ares I and Ares V boosters. The Orion and its related exhibits will reside where the X-38 is on display now.
A short distance away, under an Apollo lunar module, visitors today will find "Lunar Lander 2020", four all new simulators that offer a chance to fly NASA's planned Lunar Surface Access Module (LSAM) to a touchdown on the Moon.
As a first time LSAM pilot, I can attest that not only are the three dimensional graphics impressive, but this simulation is challenging! There are three skill levels: Easy, Intermediate and Realistic. The user has control over the descent engine, RCS jets and multiple views. I landed on the second try on the easy mode; I crashed on intermediate and I knew better to even attempt realistic.
Like the tram tour, the simulators blend the history and future through their soundtracks. Developed in cooperation with Space Dream Studios and Amusitronix, LL2020 seamlessly incorporates the Apollo 11 landing such that as you reach each milestone, you hear Armstrong, Aldrin and Duke (as Capcom) updating your progress. Coupled with realistic sound effects (including a startling Master Alarm), you can really lose yourself behind the controls (which are so new that the full "theming" hasn't yet been added to the cockpit).
The tram tour and future full scale Orion exhibits are included with admission to Space Center Houston. Lunar Lander 2020 costs an additional $4 for multiple landing attempts.