In Episode 24 in my travel podcast series, I'm taking you on on a road trip through Texas, where I spent ten days with my family in the spring. We did so much on that holiday that I’m splitting the podcast into two episodes and this first episode covers everything we did in Houston and San Antonio. You’ll hear all about the Houston space centre where we took the tram tour to see the giant spaceship workshop and learned about the NASA Space Programme. From Houston we drove down to San Antonio where we visited the Alamo, cycled along the river to see the Spanish Missions and took a night time stroll along the buzzing River Walk. We also spent a very enjoyable day on Picosa Ranch which was was once the home of Texas Governor John Connally, and has now been turned into a luxury ranch where we enjoyed pretending we were cowboys for a day.
Link to audio file
First stop - Space Center Houston
The Space Center Houston is one of the major attractions of Houston and an easy drive around the ring road from the Park Inn Hotel, near the aiport, where we had stayed the night before. On arrival we decided to start with the Tramway Tour, as we were told that there could be thunderstorms later that afternoon and the tour would then be closed. The tram is one of those little tourist trains that takes you around the NASA complex, and although most of the buildings are just places where people work, the thing that made the tour fascinating was the commentary full of interesting space facts.
Space facts we learned on the Tram Tour
There is no way to replicate the weightlessness of space, so astronauts often practice in giant water tanks to create a similar effect. There is also a jet that astronauts train on that creates microgravity by flying on a trajectory like a 2 mile high roller coaster. On this Zero Gravity flight a lot of people feel sick, giving it the nickname of the "Vomit Comet”.
On the tram tour you will pass a grove of oaks, the Astronaut Memorial Grove. Each tree commemorates an astronaut who died on a space mission, such as those in the Challenger and Colombia space disasters. President George W.Bush said “Each of these astronauts knew that great endeavors are inseparable from great risks and each of them accepted these risks willingly, even joyfully in the cause of discovery. America’s space program will go on.”
The giant space workshop
We entered a huge building, went up some stairs and into the viewing area overlooking an enormous hangar, which looked like a big junk shop where people were busy making things for the space programme. An astronaut in training was trying out a space suit and the hangar was full of mock-ups that are created to allow the astronauts to try out living in the confined quarters of the space craft, before they go up in the real thing. A little further on the tram ride, we stopped at another hangar that had a number of space shuttles inside and some rockets parked outside, before it was back to the main space center.
Back inside we went into the Blast-off presentation to get a feel of the sights, sounds and even the smoke and vibration of a space mission blasting into orbit, followed by a presentation in the lecture theatre about the space programme. Afterwards we listened to another of the presenters show us a mock-up of some of the space shuttle equipment and living area to demonstrate how astronauts live in space. Apparently the number one question that everyone asks is; "How do astronauts go to the toilet?" and we learned that it's mostly done by suction and vacuums! While in space the astronauts also have to exercise for 2 hrs a day on an exercise bike to keep up their muscle tone and calcium levels and they eat meals that are vacuum packed and rehydrated with hot water injected through a tube. We also had look at the hall where all the space suits are kept, including the petite one one worn by Judith Resnik, the female astronaut killed in the Challenger Space disaster.