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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Day 5 (Check out the photos below!!)

The Trip...
Today we had a 5:30am start, and we were on the road by 6.15 on our way to the Johnson Space Centre. After an unexpected truck stop break and a few hours driving, we had takeaway breakfast at McDonalds. During our trip we spent 204 miles on the same freeway (that’s around 320km.) The Americans roads are amazing! We made it to Houston after 4 hours and were making good time. We were blown away by the number of car dealerships that we passed next to the freeway, literally miles of them. We then made one last compulsory stop….. at the Hummer dealership where Eldon posed beside the original H1.

Next Stop NASA...
After being stuck in our first American traffic jam we finally made it to the space centre. We received our VIP all access badges and made our way to the start of the tour. We met our brilliant guides, Brenda and Irwin and the other 3 members of our group. We got in the van and made our way to the cafeteria to eat lunch with the astronauts and other NASA staff.

Houston we have a problem...
After lunch the tour started and we made our way to building 10 in the van. We were led into a room with tiered seating overlooking a room full of computers and people. We were now looking down at mission control for Apollo 7 which is now the International Space Station (ISS). As we stood there we could see a video of an astronaut building something on the screen and we were told it was live feed!!! There were other live images of Earth and timetables for the astronaut’s activities on the wall, even sleeping because the astronauts experience 16 sunsets and sunrises a day. The room was full of different people with their specific jobs and computer screens flashed everywhere. Brenda explained that the ISS was controlled by the specialists in the control room not by the astronaut’s. We then moved on to another room with computer screens except they were much older. It was the mission control room where the other Apollo missions were launched from. It has been restored so that it contained the same equipment they originally had, by NASA and the Smithsonian Institute, as a room of national importance. We all sat in the same chair that the flight director sat when he heard the ‘the Eagle has landed’, ‘one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’ (Apollo 11) and “Houston we have a problem” (Apollo 13.) The red phone hotline to the Pentagon was also tested by all the team, unfortunately it didn’t connect. We then moved onto the modern part of the building and more mission control rooms where the Discovery was controlled from just the other day and where all the other missions are now controlled from.

Robots in Space...
We then went onto the Astronaut Training Centre. We saw a full sized mock up of the ISS and Space Shuttle as well as a non-friction floor. We were shown their new intervehicle/planetary transporter, the Orion, which is basically an upgraded version of the Apollo landing module. We were then introduced to the NASA robots which were incredibly awesome. We saw the SCOUT prototype which we examined and touched, designed to drive on the surface of planets. It is designed to be manually driven, remote controlled or just programmed. Bizarrely it had speakers even though in space no one can hear you scream, so we are curious about the music, maybe they are planning to land on a planet with atmosphere. The next robot was the ‘Spidernaut’ which had 8 hydraulic legs. This was our favourite!!! See picture below and you will understand…… The new Rover was next and it has been designed to allow two astronauts to explore and live on the surface of a planet. It had 6 special multi-articulated wheels that allowed it to virtually climb up walls. It can be used as a flatbed transporter or carry a cabin that consisted of 2 beds with a toilet inbetween them (in the open) and 2 driving seats. Not exactly comfortable for 14 days, but at least it would be cosy…..

Astronauts underwater...
Next we drove across town to a new NASA facility where we went up to a viewing platform and looked down at an absolutely massive pool. 120m x 60m x 12m!!!! It holds 25 million litres of water and took 4 weeks to fill up. Under the water there were full sized mock ups of a space shuttle and the ISS. This was another training facility for the astronauts to experience and get used to the weightlessness of space, practicing mission tasks.

Discovery Returns...meeting the Astronauts
We didn’t stay long before we had to leave as we were going to greet the astronauts from Discovery as they returned to NASA in Houston for the first time since their successful mission, landing yesterday. This was an unexpected opportunity; even our guides that had worked at NASA for years had never been to greet the astronauts like this, but they managed to get us in. This was a NASA staff event and we were privileged to have been invited to this private company moment. The astronauts filed onto the stage one by one and sat down. They then talked about their experiences and thanked everyone who had made their successful journey possible, there was banter from the audience and everyone knew each other. We were introduced to the director of ascent and descent for the shuttle, whilst standing next to the man who chose the astronauts for the missions. Astronauts were everywhere and the feeling of family, purpose and excellence was very powerful. The crew discussed a lot about the importance of robots on their trip and their reliance on them for many important tasks. The MAGS team are now awaiting the imminent call from NASA for our help.

It was an absolutely amazing, once in a lifetime experience. Thank you to Irwin and Brenda for an awesome day.


  1. How awesome guys! Sounds like you have had a trip of a lifetime today. Looking forward to getting filled in on many other thoughts / feelings about your NASA day. Good luck going into the Competition tomorrow.

  2. Pippa & Izzy PlummerApril 22, 2010 at 5:49 PM

    You've had such a fantastic day! Do you promise you met real astronauts? How does the moon buggy move in space? Is your robot as good as 'Spidernaut'? Wishing 'The Guys' good luck in the World Champs tomorrow! Only 5 more 'sleeps', Daddy, until we see you again! Love Pippa & Izzy Plummer. The End.

  3. Wow, what a trip you are having! Must be so inspiring! It is from here!

  4. did you have help programing the sensors on Kraken look cool or are they fake + did you see the central leader with us in it i made a coment that i dont remember saying and i am not the battery ma. anyway i hope you are having fun

  5. good luck at the competition tomorrow!! since you've had such good luck today you guys will definately win!

  6. Bring back SpaceQuest memories?