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Johnson Space Center, Houston (June 2005)
Spencer Stirling

Sometimes you just have to buy something, and one of those times appeared recently to me. Astrid and I hit Houston, which is a place that I normally avoid like the plague, to shop at the monstrosity IKEA.

Since I have never been to the Johnson Space Center, we decided to make a day of the affair. So this is a bit like turning lemons into lemonade, or SO I THOUGHT!!! I didn't reckon with the fact that there really isn't much to see at "Houston" (as in "Houston, we have a problem"), but whatever. I did get the opportunity pay for a commercialized amusement park/jungle gym.

If you ever go, prepare yourself for an experience that looks like McDonalds teamed up with Universal Studios to provide. I feel like the managers have COMPLETELY neglected the actual science and engineering aspects of the park in favor of a bunch of mind-numbing boredom-inducing carnival rides. Little do these greedy idiots know that most kids actually really LIKE SCIENCE - they don't need entertainment and babysitting - they need something which will motivate them.

Anyway, as I said, there really isn't much to JSC. Really, it's just a couple of buildings. One interesting fact, however, is that the land is actually leased from Rice University. Rice stipulated that the buildings developed on it should lend themselves naturally to a college-campus atmosphere should the space program fail.

The mission control center was fun, but it was nearly impossible to get a non-blurry photo, so I left it alone. The mockup facility (where they have a bunch of full-sized training mockups) was FAR more interesting. Here is a photo of the International Space Station:

Here is the Soyuz escape module - that's good Russian engineering.

They even had several full-sized fully-equipped shuttle mockups in there - I thought that was REALLY COOL.

Here is the huge shuttle arm, known as the Canadarm.

In some sense there IS something interesting about the outside of these very mundane buildings, but only because I have a personal connection to them. Allow me to explain. Here is a photo of the building where they keep the moonrocks, obviously some valuable material.

When I was an undergraduate at the University of Utah I TA'ed physics for scientists and engineers for a couple of years (it's a wonder that they let me do that as a undergrad). One year I had a student - whose name I won't mention - who struck me as a real scumbag. For some reason I just got a bad feeling about the guy.

He eventually became a physics major, so every once in a while I would hear a story or two about him. One day I was told that he had come into class with some rare geologic artificats (I think a dinosaur footprint) that he claimed he "found" out while rock hounding on BLM land. Nobody seemed to believe him, however, since he had recently taken a volunteer position at the Utah Museum of Natural History. Nothing ever came of it (as far as I know).

However, about 2 years later (while in grad school) my mom sent me a newspaper clipping with a note "Do you know this guy?" - and there was Bonehead's picture. Apparently he had taken up an internship down at JSC where it was his job to catalog and study the moon rocks. In his infinite wisdom he decided to STEAL some of them and sell them on the open market. It didn't take much effort for the FBI to bust him (the idiot actually contacted some respected rock collectors trying to sell moon rocks, and of course NASA noticed immediately that some moonrocks were gone and knew who had access).

To make a long story short, he was indicted and the entire physics department was embarrassed. I never liked him much, so it brought a smile to my face to see this mockup of the moonrock facility and think that THIS was the scene of the crime - literally.

Well, there were more artifacts, like this original apollo landing pod,

and this replica of the moon rover - which I thought was really cool.

Now let us leave Houston and never speak of it again.

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