Do you know the most iconic phrases spoken by astronauts? They all always start with the word "Houston". This is because, even though the launches of the space missions take place from Cape Canaveral, it is the Houston office that directs it all. This is where new technologies develop and astronauts train for their next stellar journey.
Perfect for history and science buffs, the Johnson Space Center offers the opportunity to visit the space base and the museum, which contains many artifacts, vehicles and clothing. Here you can see the command center that managed the missions to the moon, touch some fragments, admire the progress of science, and find out what the future holds.
A perfect attraction for the whole family, where you can spend a day feeling like a space explorer!
- Historical notes
- Where is it and how to get there
- Which route to enter the Johnson Space Center in Houston
- Timetables, costs and other useful information
- What to see at the Johnson Space Center
- NASA tram tour
- Independence Plaza
- Permanent museum exhibits
- VIP paid experiences
- Where to eat
Johnson Space Center (JSC) was born in 1961 under the name of Manned Spacecraft Center. The base, which took 2 years to build, was renamed in 1973 in honor of the late President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Why Houston? The American space program needed to find a site to accommodate all the personnel of the Space Task Group, the task force charged with directing the Apollo lunar project. The launch base of Cape Canaveral did not lend itself well to this purpose, so it was decided to choose a second site, which had to have very specific characteristics, that is the possibility of transporting goods on water, a mild climate to work outdoors everything. year, and an airport operating in any climatic situation.
It also needed to be close to strong telecommunications and industrial networks, as well as a vibrant and active cultural community. Of the 23 locations competing, the finalists were Houston and Tampa. The choice fell on the first, apparently also thanks to the push of the then vice president. Did you guess who it was? Yes, he himself, the Texan Lyndon B. Johnson.
La NASA in Houston it has been the headquarters of the Mission Control Center since the Gemini IV program of 1964. Since then he has also directed the Apollo-Souyz, and Skylab, and from 1981 to 2011 was the headquarters of the Space Shuttle program.
Currently, he leads the operations of the ISS international space station, the development of the Orion spacecraft, as well as numerous other research and development programs. It is also home to the training camp for astronauts, who are preparing to face long periods of stay in space here.
Where is it and how to get there
The fastest and most convenient way to reach Johnson Space Center is by car. The site has ample parking, which costs 5$ all day long.
- By Houston, take I-45 towards Nassau Bay. Then take exit 24 for Nasa Road 1 and continue for 4 km, then turn left onto Second Road. You cannot fail to notice the large blue sign on the left, which indicates that you have arrived. The travel time is 30 minutes, but the road is very busy, especially during rush hour. If you have booked for a specific time, leave one hour early.
- Da Galveston, take I -45 towards Gulf Freeway S. Take the TX-518 / League City exit, and after 3km turn right onto Nasa Road 1, and continue as above. Travel time is 40 minutes, but even in this case it is good to take some slowdowns into account.
Here is the address of the Johnson Space Center: 1601 NASA Pkwy, 77058, Houston, Texas, USA
Which route to enter the Johnson Space Center in Houston
Houston and NASA fit well into two itineraries.
- un trip dedicated entirely to Texas, touching the great cities of the state, the most beautiful natural areas such as Hill Country and Big Bend National Park, and a stretch of Route 66 in Texas.
- un itinerary in the southern United States, through the places that have marked the recent history of the country. In this case, you can combine eastern Texas with New Orleans, the Louisana plantations, and Mississippi from Highway 61 to Memphis, depending on how many days you have.
You can be stationed in Houston, and visit NASA in the day, or continue to another city, for example Galveston or other locations on the gulf coast. Keep in mind, however, that the visit will take most of the day, so it would be advisable to choose a place that is no more than a couple of hours away - 200 km.
Timetables, costs and other useful information
Johnson Space Center opening hours vary by season and day of the week. In general, consider from 10.00 to 17.00, until 18.00 in summer and on weekends, plus some evenings until 22.00. Due to this variability, we suggest consulting the updated calendar on the official page. Some areas may exceptionally close in case of bad weather.
NASA is a very popular attraction and attracts tourists from all over the world. For this reason it is often crowded, especially on weekends. We therefore recommend pre-purchase tickets, below are the costs (may change over time):
- Adults: $ 29,95
- Children 4-11 years: $ 24,95
- Over 65: 27,95$
- free under the 3 years
NASA entrance tickets
Guided tours are also available that include hotel pick-up and drop-off. Here is one of the most popular:
NASA guided tour
If you plan to visit some of Houston's attractions as well, be aware that NASA is included in the Houston City Pass, along with these museums:
- Downtown Aquarium
- Houston Museum of Natural Science
- Houston Zoo oppure Museum of Fine Arts
- Kemah Boardwalk oppure Children’s Museum of Houston
The cost of the City Pass is $ 64 for adults and $ 54 for children between 3 and 11 years old. It is valid for one year from purchase, and 30 consecutive days from first use. You can ordinarla online, the tickets will be sent to you electronically to your email address.
The visit to the site is very complex so, as mentioned above, take into account to go there the whole day. It is not allowed to bring food from outside, but you will find a self-service bar inside. I also suggest that you bring a sweatshirt or sweater, even in the height of summer, because the air conditioning is very strong.
From this link you can download the PDF map of the center.
What to see at the Johnson Space Center
The two most popular attractions are the guided tour of the complex, and the visit to the replica of the Independence shuttle. To avoid long queues, as soon as you enter, go to the Membership Desk on the right. Here you can get a ticket with which to show up at the attraction at the established time.
NASA tram tour
The Johnson Space Center tour will take you inside the space station, visiting places that have made and are making history. As this is a functioning government building, the visit takes place on a tourist tram, and only a few pavilions are accessible to the public.
Here's what you'll see:
- Christopher C. Kraft Mission Control Center, the spearhead of the site. From here the Gemini and Apollo programs were directed, including Apollo 11, which saw humans land on the moon for the first time. Today it is no longer operational, and everything has been left as it was. Computers and means that today seem prehistoric to us, and which nevertheless have allowed one of the greatest achievements of humanity. A short video of the moon landing is also shown.
- Astronaut Training Facility, the astronaut training camp and research and development center. For safety reasons, and in order not to disturb the workers, with the standard ticket it is possible to visit it only from a closed and elevated walkway. You will see some training modules, pods for testing in microgravity environments, rovers and humanoid robots. Equipment is constantly changing as new technologies are invented.
- Rocket Park, an open area where various rockets used in the history of space programs are installed. The highlight is one of the three Saturn V rockets still existing, installed in a pavilion and can be visited up close. More than 100 meters tall, the Saturn V launched 26 astronauts into space between 1967 and 1973, with 6 successful missions to the moon. On the walls hang some panels that bear the most famous quotes from astronauts, including the famous "Houston, we have a problem".
Duration: 90 minutes - 120 minutes. The last tour starts two hours before the closing of the center and, in case of bad weather, it could be suspended.
In this open space some vehicles are exposed to other space equipment:
- replica of the Independence shuttle, mounted on the original Boeing 747 NASA 905, the aircraft used for shuttle transport. You can enter the shuttle, see the cockpit and the inhabited area. In the hold is exhibited the STS -49 capsule with which, in 1992, three astronauts spent eight hours during a satellite recovery mission.
- SpaceX Falcon 9 booster, a rocket from the Space X company that has the distinction of being reusable. The central body is 47,7 meters high, has a diameter of 3,1 meters. It has 9 Merlin 1D engines that allow you to launch vehicles into space, while the central body lands safely and is then used again. This rocket made two missions, in June and December 2017, after which it was withdrawn.
- Boarding sleeve of ramp 39B of the Kennedy Space Center. It ensured a sterile environment where astronauts could stay up to a few minutes before launch, while also serving as an emergency exit. No longer in use, the ramp was dismantled in 2009 from its Cape Canaveral location, and brought here for visitors to admire.
Permanent museum exhibits
In addition to the attractions listed below, there are always temporary exhibits at Johnson Space Center, housed in the central space. Since these can vary both in content and in times, it is worth checking what is on the agenda once you arrive at the museum.
Start with Destiny Theater, where the Human Destiny movie airs. Consisting of over 6 million original footage, it tells the story of NASA, from its foundation to the most important space projects of the past, present and future. Here is also the podium from which Kennedy announced the Apollo program in 1962 by uttering the fateful phrase: We choose to go to the moon, "let's choose to go to the moon".
The Starship Gallery displays spacecraft, lunar modules, and various artifacts from outer space. The most significant are:
- Starship Gallery Faith 7 spacecraft of the Mercury program. In 1963 she remained in orbit for 34 hours, 19 minutes and 49 seconds, circling the Earth 22,5 times and setting the American record for human flight in space.
- navicella Gemini V, which in 1965 orbited the earth for almost 8 days with two astronauts on board, breaking the Russian record. This mission was also a prerequisite for future trips to the moon.
- command module of the apollo 17, the last of the missions to the moon, which took place in 1972.
- LTA-8 lunar module, used as a base camp on the moon.
- lunar vehicle equipped with electric motor and video camera. The vehicles, weighing about 200 kg, were used in the last three lunar missions, to facilitate the exploration of the satellite. This rover had a speed of 15 km / h, and a radius of approximately 89 km.
- training module for Skylab, the first habitable space station in the United States. The Skylab project made it possible to study new methods for living and working in space for long periods, and was therefore a precursor of the ISS. The one on display is the training module, but you are well aware of what the daily life of astronauts was like.
- some lunar fragments, which you can touch.
This section is dedicated to the people who made us dream with their travels outside our planet. Space suits from different eras are exhibited, often linked to significant events.
Here are which pieces you shouldn't miss:
- Michael Collins isolation suit, one of the three astronauts of Apollo 11, the first mission to land successfully on the moon. Upon their return, the astronauts were quarantined and kept under close surveillance to analyze for the presence of contaminants. This suit served as an isolation, to avoid bringing pathogens to Earth.
- Pete Conrad's outerwear, worn during the Apollo 12 mission and for walking on lunar soil.
- John Young's STS-1 spacesuit, worn during the inaugural mission of the Space Shuttle program, April 12, 1981
- Sally Ride jumpsuit, who on June 18, 1983 was the first American woman to go into space
- prototype of the new generation MK-3, designed to give greater flexibility and freedom of movement.
There is also a Wall of Fame, which collects the names of all NASA astronauts, with photos and a short biography.
at the Space Center Theater you can watch 4k projections about research and life in space.
The area dedicated to the discovery of the Red Planet explains how NASA is planning the project, the ultimate goal of which is to be able to bring men to the Red Planet.
It's a'interactive exhibit with dioramas and models illustrating the characteristics of Mars. There are even some fragments of the planet, a rock and some meteorites.
You will see how researchers are addressing the main issues related to travel and staying on the planet, for example the development of suits that protect against radiation. Another challenge will be to give astronauts the opportunity to grow food on Mars, exactly like in the film The Martian with Matt Damon.
Besides that, in this section they are also present
- 13-meter model (1: 8 scale) of razzo super-tecnologico Space Launch System, which will have the task of physically bringing the astronauts to their destination.
- Orion search form life size, used to study emergency procedures.
- simulator of the Orion capsule, which you can enter to see with your own eyes what the first trip to Mars will be like.
International Space Station Gallery
The International Space Station (ISS) is the largest structure ever built in space, and orbits the earth at more than 27,534 km / h. It was built between 1998 and 2011 in over 40 missions, and with the collaboration of 5 space agencies, including the European ESA.
To date, 15 countries collaborate on the project with their astronauts, including our Samantha Cristoforetti and Luca Parmitano. It has been continuously inhabited since November 2000 with an average stay of 6 months, but the American Scott Kelly and the Russian Mikhail Kornienko set the record, with 340 days.
It is basically a huge research and experimentation laboratory, where experiments are conducted that would not be feasible on earth. These studies then lead to new technologies, which we also use every day For example, the CMOS sensor of cameras, i infrared thermographic viewers used by firefighters, prosthesis for increasingly performing and light disabled people. Of course, it is also leading the way for human missions to Mars, thanks to studies on the human body.
Be sure to admire the replica of the space station, which hangs from the ceiling above your heads!
The ISS is the third brightest object in space, and if you know where and when to look, you can even see it with the naked eye. Click here to find out how to view it based on your location.
To find out how people live and what they do on the ISS, attend the presentation Living in Space, lasting about 20 minutes. There is a presentation every hour, so you will have more opportunities to attend, check the times when you arrive.
VIP paid experiences
- Space Expert Tour, a guided tour of the space station and the museum. Tours start at 9.00am, and you must show up at the Guest Service Desk at least 10 minutes before. The ticket costs $ 69,95, and includes admission to the Johnson Space Center.
- Lunch with astronaut. In fact, you can hear a short 30-minute lecture even with the simple entrance ticket every Friday and Saturday, at the Astronaut Gallery. On these occasions, an astronaut shares his adventures with the public at 11.30 and 13.20. If you prefer a more intimate experience, you can book a lunch with one of them, who will be on hand to answer your questions. The cost is $ 69,95 for adults, and $ 35,95 for 4-11 year olds, and includes admission to the center. Click here to book.
- Level 9 tour, the most complete visit of the Space Center. It lasts 4-5 hours, and gives restricted access to some areas that cannot be visited with the normal ticket. For example, you can enter the Astronaut Training Facility, rather than just seeing it from the catwalk. The tour is held from Monday to Friday, is for over 14s only, costs $ 179.95 and includes entry to the base also for the next day. Here you will find all the info to book.
The two closest cities are Houston and Galveston.
Houston it is a large metropolis of over 2 million inhabitants, it is very extensive and choosing where to stay can be confusing. Two good areas are:
- Uptown/Galleria, quiet area with many restaurants and clubs. Here you can stay overnight, for example, at the Royal Sonesta Houston Galleria.
- Downtown, the center, where we find for example the AC Hotel by Marriott Houston Downtown.
Further accommodation tips can be found in our in-depth study on where to sleep in Houston.
All Houston accommodations
Galveston is a seaside resort on the Gulf Coast, certainly more on a human scale than Houston. Here you can choose a beachfront property, such as the Best Western Plus Galveston Suites or the Holiday Inn Resort on the Beach.
All Galveston accommodations
Where to eat
There is an almost endless choice of restaurants in Houston, with any cuisine in the world. In the Uptown / Galleria area, I recommend the Pappas Bros. Steakhouse, which specializes in meat, or Burger Palace, which serves gourmet burgers. In the center, try Irma's Southwest, a Tex-Mex restaurant, or Jackosn Street Barbecue, which specializes in brisket, pulled pork and ribs.
In Galveston you can take the opportunity to taste the Southern United States cuisine. One specialty is gumbo, a thick okra-based soup traditionally served with shrimp and rice. Try it at Little Daddys' Gumbo Bar, downtown. Alternatively we recommend Taquilo's Tex-Mex Cantina Mexican restaurant, and Shark Shack Beach Bar & Grill, which serves a rather varied menu ranging from burgers to salads.