“Houston is a dump” was the overwhelming opinion people shared with me when I told them where I was headed for the 4th July long weekend. Now I won’t pretend that Texas has been on my bucket list since I was a toddler, or that I knew a lot about the city, but with direct flights, an international space centre and a holiday to celebrate, how bad could it be?
Not bad at all. In fact, Houston is awesome.
Let’s start with NASA. Dreaming of being an astronaut when you grow up is almost a rite of passage. I know I went through a phase in my childhood of wanting to spend my days backflipping around a room in a bubble suit, and I’m pretty sure that most kids that didn’t go through it themselves, had a brother of friend who shared my dream. The Space Centre in Houston is as close to that dream as most of us will ever get. The visitor centre does an incredible job of blending theme park-style space themed attractions with down to earth (literally) tours of the office campus on trolley trams. There are 3 tours available to visitors and it’s best to get there early to avoid long queues and the heat of the sun. We chose the red tour which takes your around the shuttle park, and inside Apollo Mission Control.
It gave us goosebumps to see the very room that sent men up to the moon so many times, and the plaques on the wall representing the teams of brave explorers who blasted themselves up there.
Back in the light of day we wandered around the Rocket park and marveled at the fact that this missile accommodated a single astronaut on his journey into space. I can’t imagine what was going through his mind as he climbed into this little capsule!
Various parts of the Apollo shuttle have been reclaimed and are on display in a huge hangar with information about the 17 missions to the moon.
The feat of engineering is something to behold. So many wires!
Back in the main visitors centre there is a choice of attractions for all ages, from Imax style movies, to a space museum and live theatre presentations. You could easily spend the day, but if you only have a few hours, speak to the helpful staff at the information desk and they’ll recommend how best to spend your time. We chose to listen to 2 of the theatre presentations about life on the international space station and current research taking place on Mars with Rover - absolutely fascinating and I found myself leaving with a new level of respect for NASA’s work, the bravery and skill of the astronauts, and a genuine interest in the explorations currently taking place.
And we couldn't leave without touching the moon!
Top tip. Don’t plan to eat at the Space Centre – the food court is unappealing and overpriced. Venture a few minutes down the road and you’ll be faced with a choice of every fast food and American chain restaurant you can think of. We opted for Texas’ favorite burger chain – Whataburger.
And What-a-burger it was! :) But even better than the burger was the milkshake. Oh my.
To the customs official who asked me on the way in:
“Why would you want to come to Houston on vacation?”
"Because the attractions and fast food are out of this world!"