Since last Friday, I’ve intended to write a lengthy, detailed blog post describing the absolutely mind-blowing day of VIP behind-the-scenes coolness that I and a group of my fellow Star Trek writers enjoyed at NASA‘s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
Then my friend and fellow author Dayton Ward beat me to it.
Over on his blog The Fog of Ward, he presents a detailed account of the entire amazing day, starting with the group’s arrival the night before the visit, and culminating in our 10-hour walking tour of several of JSC’s most notable historic sites and working facilities.
Because I can’t hope to write an account more accurate or entertaining than his, I will simply tell you to go read it there, and to keep reading here if you’d like to see an assortment of photos of our visit.
On Friday, June 28, our gang of dubious distinction — myself, my wife Kara Bain, and her sister, Diana Bain; Dayton Ward and his wife, Michi; Kevin Dilmore and his friend Melissa Healer; Kathleen O’Shea David (wife of Peter David); Robert Greenberger and his wife Deborah Greenberger; David R. George III and his wife Karen Ragan-George; Aaron Rosenberg; William Leisner; John Coffren; Dave Galanter and his wife Simantha; Kirsten Beyer and her husband David Permenter; and Amy Sisson — were led by Amy’s husband Dr. Paul Abell, a distinguished and respected employee of NASA who works in planetary defense (i.e., protecting us from asteroids and other devastating impacts from space) to the parking lot adjacent to JSC’s famed Rocket Park.
We were met in the parking lot by a trio of red-shirted Public Affairs Officers (PAOs), who reviewed the day’s schedule with us before loading us onto our trusty shuttle bus to start our tour.
Our first stop was the Mission Control Center, or MCC, where astronaut Dr. Stanley Love showed us the SSTs (training modules for the Space Shuttle) that now reside in the ground floor lobby. Being who we are, we couldn’t resist the urge to goof off in front of the simulators.
We sat in the VIP visitors’ gallery above the current MCC, and watched the team interact with the crew on the International Space Station. We also saw live footage of the Robonaut doing his thing, and a breathtaking shot of “station sunrise” turning the dark silhouette of the ISS into a blazing golden portrait of technological achievement.
Then we visited the original MCC, now a designated historical landmark, from which the Gemini and Apollo missions were flown.
Afterward, we visited a number of new MCC facilities that are developing better-integrated and more cost-efficient systems for doing the same work with fewer people, all utilizing off-the-shelf hardware to keep costs down.
Next up: we gathered outside the Teague Auditorium to gape at the murals and models in the lobby before heading inside to take part in an hour-long panel discussion moderated by John Connolly, Deputy Manager for the Exploration Mission and Systems Office. We answered a variety of questions from the 200-plus NASA personnel in attendance.
After the panel we were brought to a special meeting with the Deputy Director of JSC, who told us about how NASA continues to foster a culture of invention and imagination during lean economic times. For lunch, the authors were split up to different tables and seated with different NASA personnel. (Sorry, I didn’t get any photos of these parts of the day.)
Fortified with calories, we moved on to Project MORPHEUS, a program to design and build a spacecraft that can fly itself to a new planet and find itself a safe place to land, without need for remote control by human pilots. As a special bonus, we got to watch footage of the fiery crash of an earlier prototype, and then we went outside and inspected the wreckage from that crash.
But wait, there’s still lots more. We were welcomed at the robotics laboratory, where we got to shake hands with the new Robonaut 2.0 prototype, view the development of new exoskeleton exercise equipment for astronauts, and see how a Terminator-style robotic hand has led to the development of a glove with artificial tendons that can amplify strength while preserving fine-motor control — a technology that has applications not only for space travel and industry but also for rehabilitative therapy and prosthetic limbs.
The tour’s next leg was a stroll through the labs where the next generation of space suits are being developed. Our briefer was Raul Bianco, who patiently answered even our dumbest questions.
Then came the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility. Or, as Dayton so eloquently put it, “DISNEYLAND.” This enormous hangar contained full-scale mockups (of varying degrees of fidelity) of such spacecraft as the International Space Station (presented to us by Dr. Catherine “Cady” Coleman), a Soyuz capsule (whose hazards and virtues were expounded upon by Dr. Stan Love), and the new Orion capsule spacecraft (which might one day carry men back to the Moon, or even to Mars), as well as a Space Shuttle cockpit simulator. Here we listened to presentations about commercial space flight programs and research into the Alcubierre warp drive.
Because our brains had still not exploded, Scanners-style, we were escorted to the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science Directorate. These buildings house the Cosmic Dust Lab and the Lunar Materials Lab. In other words, this is where they keep the asteroid fragments and the moon rocks.
That’s right, folks: I got to hold an Apollo 11 moon rock.
Last, but not least, we were driven back to the Rocket Park, and we visited the Saturn V rocket, which is housed in a massive structure that was erected around it.
On one face of the Saturn V building is a huge NASA logo (which we were told is called “the meatball” by NASA folks). After visiting the rocket, we and our guests gathered there, beneath the logo, for the day’s final photos.
And that, in a nutshell, was our day at NASA. I need to thank everyone at NASA who made this possible, from the Public Affairs Officers to the many expert briefers, including Drs. Love and Coleman, and most especially Dr. Paul Abell, who set this event in motion and saw it through to its successful conclusion. Thanks, Paul!