We’ve been on the road with the kids since last month, vacationing in areas not too far from Austin. I’ll be selecting some of the highlights to share with you this summer, in hopes that you’ll make a day trip yourself!
Last week, we stayed on Lake Conroe, north of Houston. Our friends at Buick were kind enough to lend us a 2013 Enclave for all of our adventuring – a vehicle large enough to fit six people, a large cooler, and our luggage.
On travel days that saw temperature spikes of up to 109 degrees, the rear air-conditioning controls in the Enclave satisfied the teenagers in the back. Up front, Eric and I found relief from the heat with air-conditioned seats!
With SiriusXM Radio to serenade us and directions from OnStar that displayed on our screen up front, we arrived at Space Center Houston, south of the city.
Spending a Day at Space Center Houston
In my experience, it’s impossible to see everything at Space Center Houston in one day, especially with kids in tow (and all the bathroom breaks that come with them!). Since we were on vacation, after all, we decided to take it easy. We started the day with the activities we wanted to do the most, and prioritized from there.
NASA Tram Tour
As we walked into the Space Center less than an hour after it opened, every employee we passed said, “Take the tram tour!” We had already heard great things, so we made a beeline for the Tram Tour launch point. Even before 11 AM, the wait was already about 45 minutes. But we stuck it out and everyone enjoyed the tour.
The tour stops:
- Mission Control
- Space Vehicle Mockup Facility
- Saturn V Facility
During every stop, we learned fascinating facts and gained a hands-on historical perspective that appealed to the whole family. As 14 year old Arianna snapped dozens of photos during the tour, the guide at Mission Control told us that the mainframe computer that operated during the Apollo missions had 5 megabytes of memory – the equivalent of 10 digital photos!
The Space Vehicle Mockup Facility for astronaut training is 8 stories tall and 2 football fields long. It holds full-size mockups, including one of the International Space Center.
The Saturn V Facility was one of my favorite stops. Make sure to have a QR code reader handy, as codes are spaced throughout the area. They’ll direct you to web pages with interesting information about Saturn V’s history, construction and uses. Twelve year old Javen and nine year old Silas latched onto the fact that Saturn V weighed as much as 400 elephants when fully fueled!
Though the tour was scheduled to last 90 minutes, ours was just shy of two hours long.
Zero G Diner
For lunch, we opted for hamburgers and chicken tenders at Zero G Diner. There are a number of vendors in the food court, but most of them were closed on the day of our visit.
Our food was priced as expected, but the quality was good. We learned an important lesson about french fries: the meals come with far more than one person can or should eat. The six of us piled our leftover fries together at the end of our meal and the basket was overflowing:
Blast Off: Mars Rover Curiosity
My favorite part of the whole day was a briefing on Curiosity, a rover currently exploring Mars. I couldn’t believe how intricate the vehicle is, or how many functions it has. You’ll have a whole new respect for rocket scientists after you see how NASA got this thing to land on Mars.
After watching a short video, you’ll make your way into a museum-like gallery that chronicles our country’s explorations of space. The kids made their way through the exhibits too quickly for me, but they loved touching a real moon rock and seeing Apollo capsules hanging from the ceiling.
The Space Center brochure recommends allowing 45 minutes for Starship Gallery, but I could’ve spent an hour and a half in there!
Living in Space
Most appropriate for younger children (middle school age and younger), Living in Space is an interactive presentation that demonstrates to the audience how astronauts live and work in outer space. Javen was chosen for the demonstration, and he learned a lot himself as he showed us how sleeping, eating and exercising are different away from Earth.
Central Play Area
Between the scheduled tours and shows, the kids enjoyed playing in the central area of the Space Center. Rock-climbing, pole-climbing, a five-story play place, live animal exhibits and more were all available.
Planning Your Visit
Space Center Houston is currently open 7 days a week, from 9 AM-7 PM. I definitely recommend that you buy your tickets online at a discount, or take advantage of Houston’s CityPass if you’re going to be in the Houston area for a few days.
Other things to know:
- Parking is $6 and plastic is accepted.
- Wear comfortable walking shoes.
- Photography is allowed everywhere except in theaters.
- Outside food is not allowed in the Space Center.
Do you have any questions about Space Center Houston? Let me know in a comment below!
Photos courtesy of Arianna Highland.