What to Expect when Visiting Space Center Houston

What to expect when you visit Space Center Houston

 ‘Houston, we have a problem.’ It’s a line that everyone knows from Apollo 13 but to Houston it is a matter of pride that we were so instrumental in the space program.

To continue that tradition Houston is now going to lead the Orion Mars program and the Space Center Houston is changing direction. So if you haven’t been in a while you may want to give it a look. And if you are visiting Houston put this on your mus-do list. Especially if you have children – Houston Space Center has them in mind.

***Disclosure: I did receive a Houston CityPass free of charge as a member of the media. All opinions are my own. Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Click here for more details.

A Bit About Space Center Houston

Since 1992, Space Center Houston has been the official welcome center from NASA Johnson Space Center. And yes, NASA Johnson Space Center still manages NASA Mission Control, International Space Station Mission Control and astronaut training.

In addition to taking your behind the scenes at NASA Johnson Space Center, Space Center Houston features more than 400 space artifacts, permanent and traveling exhibits, attractions and theaters related to the exciting future and remarkable past of America’s human space-flight program.

  • Monday | 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
  • Tuesday| 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
  • Wednesday | 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
  • Thursday | 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
  • Friday | 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
  • Saturday | 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.
  • Sunday | 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Door Prices

  • Children 0-3 | FREE
  • Kids 4-11 | $19.95
  • Adults 12-64 | $24.95
  • Seniors 65+ | $22.95

Annual Memberships

  • Families up to 4 people | $109.00
  • Family Add-On +1 | $27.95
  • Individuals all ages | $29.95

Parking | $6

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Promotional Partners

Visit any Houston-area promotional partner location to find coupons valid for $5 off in line at the ticket booth or $7 by purchasing online.

Military and AAA discounts

$5 off regular admission prices is available to military and AAA members with I.D.

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Initial Thoughts

It looks like the Space Center of Houston is in flux. There seemed to be a lot of open space in the Space Center Gallery when you walk in. I remember it full of exhibits and now it is open space. You felt like something was just missing.

Houston Space Center - Main Plaza

We also noted that the Rocket Park was now down to two rockets. Not sure where they went but using the word ‘park’ is a far stretch.

But after looking around we figured out they are changing focus. Where they once focused on space shuttle and international space station they are now focusing on the Orion project and the mission to Mars.

Houston Space Center - Orion capsule display #journeytomars

You can see that they are slowly building exhibits to fit the new vision of space exploration and personally I think that is exciting.

Even with a lot of space we still ended up spending 5 hours at the Space Center of Houston. Forced out by hunger. But I will share what we did enjoy and would recommend on your visit.

The Exhibit Areas

In the main area of Houston Space Center there are difference exhibit areas.  A favorite for the kids is the space shuttle mock up.  There are a lot of buttons for them to push as they go through this walk through attraction.

Houston Space Center - Space Shuttle Mock Up

Houston Space Center - Space Shuttle Mock Up

The astronaut gallery is sparse right now but you will want to spend a little time looking at the exhibits and then walking the wall of NASA human space craft missions.

Houston Space Center - Astronaut gallery

In addition to the gallery you are going to find areas talking about new technology (i.e. robots) and planning for deeper space exploration.

If you happen to be a Trekkie you will have to have your photo taken with the Galileo shuttlecraft, the largest prop from the original Star Trek television series.

Unfortunately it is on temporary loan to Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City until December 2016.

While you are looking at the International Space Station exhibit stick around to check the daily update.  You never know who may report out on what is happening above us.

Space Center Theater – Journey to Space

This is a must-do!

On a 5 story high screen you get to hear Sir Patrick Stewart and NASA astronauts Chris Ferguson and Serena Aunon share their love for exploration and what they are doing today to prepare for exploration into deep space.

It is 45 minutes long so Mr J eventually got bored but they rest of us were riveted.  I walked away wanting to know more about the Orion project and how I could be a part of it.

I can tell you if I was 9 years old right now and you asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up I would tell you an astronaut going to Mars.

This movie looks back at historical missions, the creation of the ISS (International Space Center) and the future of manned flight with the goal of inhabiting Mars. (Do you know they already have volunteers to live there permanently? What a leap of faith.)

It really gets into the details of how the first astronauts will survive the 2.5 to 3 year mission. From what the impact of space will be on their body to how they will store food out on Mars BEFORE the astronauts even get there to how they may have to refuel on an asteroid. Amazing logistics!

So I give this move a thumbs up.

NASA Tram Tour – Red Tram

So you see I noted the Red above that is because we took the Blue Tram and found out it only stopped at 2 out of the 3 stops. They billed Blue as a visual tour with Red being the informational tour. We took Blue because of the kids and I would not recommend that.

The building we missed was Building 9 the Vehicle Mock Up Facility. Currently it houses mock ups of parts of the ISS and the Orion capsule. You might actually see astronauts in action practicing on mock ups of equipment they will be using in space. I regret we missed it.

Houston Space Center - NASA Tram Tour

Blue Tram takes about an hour (Red Tram takes 1.5 hours) and there are 2 stops. The first is to Mission Control. This Mission Control room monitors all US manned space flight 24/7. It has recently been updated with state of the art equipment.

Up on the screens you can see the other control room this one monitors activities on the ISS (International Space Station).

We were lucky enough to have a wonderful guide that was full of great information. We even found out why the ISS looks like it is on a wavy path (answer – so it can pass over Cape Canaveral and Moscow on every circle of the earth.)

We also found out that only the CAPCOM (Capsule Communicator) ever speaks to the crew. This is so they never get mixed messages. That means the Flight Director (man in charge) mus always talk through the CAPCOM.

Insider Tip: This Mission Control Room can only be seen on weekends. If you go on a weekday (or the Red Tram) you will be taken to the Historic Mission Control Room.

This room is awesome as it takes you back to Apollo 11 and those first steps on the moon. It will also have you thinking of those famous words ‘Houston, we have a problem’ as this is the room where Flight Director Gene Kranz told everyone ‘Failure is not an option.’.

As you can tell I really liked this portion. Again Mr J was not entertained enough for his liking.

The Rocket Park (with only two rockets) was next on the tour.  On the way to the Rocket Park we passed by this unassuming park.   Each of the trees was planted for an astronaut that gave their life either on a mission or during training.

Houston Space Center - NASA Tram Tour - astronaut memorial park

Once at the Rocket Park you will first encounter the Mercury Redstone rocket. It is a one man rocket that took astronauts Al Shepard and Gus Grissom into low orbit above the Earth.

The only other rocket out here is the Little Joe II. This rocket is actually designed to fail at around 14,000 feet. Why would they do this you ask? It was to test Launch Escape Systems (LES). Meaning that if there was a failure the capsule with the astronauts in it would sense it and push away from the rocket and deploy the parachutes.

The star of the Rocket Park is actually inside. It is a Saturn 5 rocket that was used for the Apollo mission. It is one of 3 in existence and still functional.

And it is over a football field long!! Seriously this thing is HUGE!!

Of course the boys loved this building as they could (and did) run the length of the rocket. They felt much better after the boredom of the movie and the tram.

Stellar Science Show

The highllight of your visit was something unexpected. It was the Stellar Science show held right at the entrance.

This 30 minute show is full of comedy along with sciences. And kids are encouraged to volunteer to be a part of the show.

The day we were here we learned all about matter and how it responds to the conditions of space. I am still dramatized by what happened to Marshmallow Bill. Poor Bill her never saw it coming.

So definitely check the times and make sure you catch a show!

Independence Plaza

This exhibit was still in process when we visited it so have not seen it yet but you cannot miss it when you pull up to Space Center Houston.

Houston Space Center - Independance Plaza

As of January 23, 2016 you have the opportunity to explore a shuttle replica Independence, mounted on top of the historic and original NASA 905 shuttle carrier aircraft. Yes, Houston was slighted by not getting one of the shuttle but I have to admit our consolation prize really dwarfs the shuttles.

The landmark experience is offered at no extra charge as part of the general admission ticket, but timed access ticketing will be used to manage the number of people entering the shuttle’s smaller space in order to enhance the guest experience.

Final Thoughts

Even though Space Center Houston seems to be in flux right now I would definitely recommend a visit. We easily spent 5 hours there and probably could have spent another 3-4 hours with no problem.

Houston Space Center

The walk around exhibits are going to be ‘boring’ for little ones as you have to do a lot of reading but the tram, movies and shows should not be missed.

I forgot to mention that because this place is so huge crowds aren’t really a problem. Everyone can spread out and have a bit of elbow room. Nice!

So what do you think? Is it worth it even with all the empty space? Ha ha – ‘space’, get it?



What to expect when you visit Space Center Houston