Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Cheesy Space

Dad and I have such wonderful memories of visiting the Johnson Space Center as kids, so we couldn't wait to take our kids there.

However. It is not the same. And our first impression was Not Good.

The first things we saw were this...

...and this.

Noooooo! The Space Center has been Chuck E. Cheesified!

The entrance to Space Center Houston looks like any suburban movie theater. Inside, it feels kind of like a Dave and Buster's.

The noise and glare were truly unsettling. It was like being inside a pinball machine. There were are few, meager attempts at science exhibits scattered around the room, but no one was looking at them. Most of the kids we saw were playing in the ball pit or chasing each other around and screaming.

I felt like screaming, too.

Then we found out that the Space Center we knew as kids, the real Space Center, still exists, but it's only accessible by tram now.

So we stood in a loooong line, had our bags searched, walked through a metal detector, and got on the tram. (Weeeell, helloooo, theeeeere, folks! How's everybody doin' today? My name is Jonah and I'll be taking you on your exciting tour...)

Thankfully, we were allowed to get off the tram and go in the building where the International Space Station and shuttle mock-ups are housed. You can look through a giant window into the entire warehouse and watch people working down there. To our relief, this part was awesome!

These are exact replicas of Space Station "rooms." Real live astronauts use these pods for training.

I thought the banners of all the different space programs were cool.

Here is the training shuttle. Someone was in it while we were touring, but they never came out so we don't know who it was. You can see space suits on a rack in the center of the photo--they weigh over 200 pounds!

The shuttle's cargo bay can hold a school bus! (Mrs. Frizzle, maybe?)

We liked the patches from the various shuttle missions--they reminded us of Scout badges.

Check out those engines!

There were DO NOT TOUCH signs on most of the equipment. It kind of struck me as funny: can astronauts not be trusted with this stuff? :)

Dude is totally into robotics these days, and he thought this one was really cool.

These look fun, too.

We were surprised by how, um, classic, these computers were.

And I don't know why, but this totally cracked me up. I'm pretty sure this is the same phone that was on my Dad's desk in 1982.

After we left this building, we boarded the tram and toured the rest of the NASA campus. The only other building you can enter houses the Saturn V. I'm pretty sure this rocket was outside back when Dad and I were kids, so I'm glad it has its own gigantic garage now.

It is impossible to take a picture of something so massive. Here is one end...

...some middle...

...and the other end.

After we had been walking around the rocket for a while, Super came up to me and said, totally wide-eyed: "Mom! I am standing under a rocket!"

Back at the arcade, I mean, main building, we watched a great movie about America's space program, saw some interesting artifacts from various missions, and went inside a "shuttle."

Only a hard-core history buff like Dad could get so excited about the podium where Kennedy announced the space program.

The kids got to touch a real moon rock!

And they brought the shuttle in for a safe landing.

In spite of our initial disappointment, we all had a good time and learned something about space. Dude's favorite part was seeing the Saturn V. Super loved going inside the shuttle replica. In other words, they loved the real science, not the loud, flashing neon playground in the main building.

I have to agree. In my opinion, that place doesn't do the space program justice. I'm all for getting kids jazzed up about science, and I know today's kids are used to flashing lights and loud noises.

But that's exactly why Space Center Houston shouldn't have flashing lights and loud noises. If you want to make an impression on modern kids, don't give them the same old junk that they get every day.

Exploring the universe shouldn't feel just like visiting a McDonald's playplace.

Space is special. It's mysterious. It's awe-inspiring.

Only a handful of humans have actually been there.

I just hate to think that generations of kids will come to Space Center Houston and remember this:

...instead of this.



Michelle said...

I had the same reaction in the fall. We loved the tour and the artifacts, but the play area made me want to puke. I thought maybe I was on edge because it was homeschool day and ridiculously crowded or because I'm super sensitive to lights and sounds and small spaces (there's just not enough white space in that building, says the pseudo-minimalist). Thankfully, my 7 yr old loved the same stuff I did, and doesn't even remember the rest of the nonsense. But you're right, it's such a shame.

Michelle said...

What a lovely post - thanks for sharing your experience. I know we would like the same parts of the museum you and your family enjoyed - amazing! Your Chuck E. Cheesified remark is great :) It's too bad we are surrounded by so much of that today.

Sara said...

The Chuck E Cheese stuff is awful! I'm glad the real stuff is still there for those who want it, but it's too bad they added all that other.

Sparklee said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone!

I think the arcade atmosphere was a misguided attempt to grab kids' attention and get them excited about space. But space doesn't need lights and noises--it's amazing without all that annoying background noise. In fact, all science is amazing. The crazy arcade stuff just distracts kids (and adults) so they miss the real science.

Thankfully, the rest of the tour was great!

liese4 said...

I too was horrified at the interior, which did not hold my kids attention. I remember the tours where all we did was see giant space vehicles and listen to docents, good times.

The Adventurer said...

I loved reading this post, because I feel the same way! We went to the Kennedy space center in Florida and it was still more about the actual space equipment and information but I think I remember there was a huge playground outside the exhibit. I am afraid even in England there is a need to make everything KID friendly with lots of lights, music and stuff:(. My youngest can still get distracted when he sees a playground

Deb said...

The "Sponsored by Pepsi" sign about makes me want to throw up. That is so patronizing to the kids! Like they can't appreciate the real deal just because they are younger. Bah.

That gold bug/robot thing looks cool.