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Hello, Houston Getting to see space up close

Space travel has always fascinated me. It’s not surprising; one of my first clear memories is watching our black and white Magnavox as Neil Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface.

I followed every NASA launch until the space shuttle missions got boring (studying how Salmonella reacts to human red blood cells in space is a yawner on par with the Golf channel. On par. See what I did there?).

I developed a second fascination when I was 12 and my buddies found a Playboy magazine hidden under a shrub in the park.

Despite Playboy, I never lost my love for space. So, when I visited my oldest child in Houston this summer, she took me to the Johnson Space Center.

Opening in 1963, the center is 1,620 acres of space fun madness. It’s a museum. It’s an astronaut training ground. It’s a space food testing center. It’s also the home of Mission Control.

This room of TV screens and computer banks from the 1960s is like Disney Land for people who are cooler than the rest of us.

Every word from the Apollo astronauts came through a little speaker that still sits atop an innocuous gray control panel in that room. Famous words like, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed,” from Apollo 11, “OK, Houston, we’ve had a problem here,” from Apollo 13 and “We’re all out of maraschino cherries,” from Apollo 17 because by then America was getting cocky (maybe I made up that one).

At Mission Control, our group of sweaty people (it was Houston, after all) marched off the tram and sat in the same room where presidents, senators, famous actors and Queen Elizabeth II sat while they watched that room as various space missions unfolded.

It was at this point—

Not yet. It’s too soon.

There are suits at the Johnson Space Center spacefarers wore to walk on the Moon, and all were less than a foot away from my face pressed against a sheet of protective glass.

The—

Nope. Still too soon.

The biggest item of space history is the Saturn V rocket, which propelled man to the Moon. The Saturn V at JSC lies on its side in an air-conditioned building. The rocket is as long as a football field and fully fueled weighed as much as 82 and a half tractor-trailer trucks.

Standing at the base of the rocket, looking along its length that never seemed to end, I got all teary eyed. There, I said it. Shut up.

Our last stop was a fully-sized model of the space shuttle.

Throughout the museum, there are an abundance of buttons and toggles and things I wanted to push but couldn’t because of tightly fitted Plexiglas shields. Aboard the shuttle, NASA left a gap in its defenses.

“Hey,” I said to my daughter as I stuck my index finger into the gap, dangerously close to pressing a button. “Look at this.”

She slapped at my hand. “Stop it.”

I pushed the button anyway.

“If they didn’t want me to touch it,” I said, “they would have made it harder for me to break in.”

Offutts shouldn’t be allowed to go anywhere, ever. Not even space.

Find out about everything Jason at jasonoffutt.com.

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