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Review: Space Center Houston / NASA Tram Tour

Posted by Sunday on Apr 23, 2008 at 1:48 pm in Weird Science

I have to get something off my chest: NASA has broken my heart before, but like any beaten lady I keep coming back for more.

A quick summary of this tumultuous relationship is easy. NASA is a handsome, charismatic and manipulative shit. NASA will do what ever it takes and to whomever it takes in order to stay popular. It’s a respectable point of view – if we love science and we love space exploration, who cares if we do it by sucking Bush’s tiny, crooked, fungal dick?


But on the other hand, NASA clearly loves and respects their astronauts and it only takes seeing film of the technicians watching Discovery’s fuel tanks explode to know their looks of eternal, world-shattering hurt are for their friends – not machines. Not money. They watched their friends die. Goddamn it I just made myself cry again.

In a discussion about this BattleGate and I agreed that we have such boundless love and admiration for these people because they aren’t doing it for any one person, any country, they are performing dangerous acts of pure science because it’s the right thing to do. Not in response to a threat, not to win land or oil. They do it for motherfucking science, and knowing there is a good chance they’ll die doing it.

Most days, it’s enough to make me forget NASA’s tawdry political ways.

So! Space Center Houston! To my great joy the surrounding town of Clear Lake is chock-a-block with random space references (Galactic Tacos! Interstellar Coin Operated Laundry!). To my even greater joy we arrived at the Space Center to see a great big sign reading WELCOME BIKERS! because some biker group had rented the spacious parking lots of the Space Center. What? I don’t know either. All I know is that there were bikers everywhere, and that’s all anyone really needs to know.


These are not my tan hands.

It should also be noted that everyone working in the Space Center wears astronaut jumpsuits, reinforcing my personal belief that jumpsuits should be an option no matter what your place of employment.

Pretty immediately I had a very mild apprehension reinforced: The Space Center is touted more as an educational service than a museum, and the level of screaming children reflects this. I tend to question the motivation of putting a gargantuan tidal wave of shrieking adolescent human monkeys directly inside the Center’s entrance, but I also failed to receive the gene that makes people tolerate species propagation, so maybe I’m not such a good judge.


ACES and a Constant Wear Garment (astronaut panties).

Ultimately, everything was great and wonderful and NASA-logo’d and sciencey. Except for two things that need calling out: the food court was offensive to all creatures that digest organic matter for energy -


What could be more futuristic than several-hour-old hotdogs and microwave pizza? Charging $20 for it!

- and the NASA Tram Tour was nearly ruined by mentally retarded teenage employees. For anyone that is angry that I used the words “mentally retarded” as a joke insult, I’ll have you know that I just misspelled “retarded” and couldn’t figure out how I’d misspelled it (hint: there’s only one ‘t’!).

Each tram requires people to wait about an hour in order to ride – the hour we spent waiting meant that we missed a few other of the main attractions at the Center. Nevertheless, this was a choice we made because the Tram Tour famously tours the actual Johnson Space Center, the real facilities where astronauts train to be astronauts. For reals. Also it means enduring BattleGate whispering, “Ooh, that he could be an astronaut! Or him! Or her! That guy could be an astronaut! Take a photo of him! Take a photo!

The positive elements of the tour are numerous, and what you’d expect: seeing historic Mission Control and sitting in the original VIP seats is worth the price of admittance alone. Aargh sat in what was revealed to be the Queen’s seat, a fact which upon learning he gave a suspiciously excellent queenly wave. Here we were surprised to find that our teen tram driver (whose name, no shitting, was Jor-El) (except I think it was spelled differently) was also our Mission Control guide. Despite Jor-El’s previous complaints of it having been “a long day” (the park opens at 11:00 and it was then 4:00), he was charming and educational in the way that slightly self-conscious teenagers can be charming and educational.  Which is to say: slightly more than not at all.

But the negative elements belong to Charlie.



OMG, when are they going to invent the technology to text message by rolling your eyes?

See this tool up here? Meet Zac Efron Charlie, our main tour guide. Somehow Charlie missed the email explaining that rockets and spacemen are FUCKING AWESOME and instead feels that working at NASA is in line with bagging groceries. ROCKETS, CHARLIE. Could you muster up a teaspoon of enthusiasm?

In seriousness: we’re talking about the genesis of human space exploration. This place is deeply meaningful to many people. I overheard several languages being spoken by other visitors, or maybe it was all just Mexican, they all sound the same to me. People – many people – have lost their lives as a part of this endeavor. Why Space Center Houston cannot muster up the fucking willpower to hire someone with ANY interest in the subject matter AT ALL is totally beyond my comprehension. I apologize for how much I am using the caps lock, dear readers, but I save my emotions for one or two subjects and space science is one of them.

Charlie slurred, mumbled and generally sort of douched his way through anything he ever had to say on a loudspeaker. He never once spoke to anyone in the tour unless he had to (and marginally more when he did have to). On two occasions he needed the whole group to move to one side of a room, a task he attempted by weakly mumbling that some people should “try to move” while gesturing vaguely with his hands. Not surprisingly, people wouldn’t move. Other times he ask us to queue up while giving zero indications of where he meant us to queue.

While walking through the primary astronaut training facilities, he’d spout his memorized lines with the kind of derisive, careless disregard for punctuation that is generally relegated to telemarketers and Department of Licensing employees. Like so:

Okay to the left you see a training module used for logisitcal purposes astronauts train here daily to get an idea of what (INTAKE OF BREATH) moving through these modules might really be like to the right you can see a black tarp that represents (INTAKE OF BREATH) the black empty space where I might once have had anything to offer to humanity (INTAKE OF BREATH)…

And in truth I blame the Space Center, not Charlie. Other trams carried a staff of equally teenaged employees, a practice that can only be blamed on low pay and a lack of benefits OR some kind of ill-perceived educational exchange with the local high school.  Just because I’ve had better tour guides at breweries than I did at the Johnson Space Center does not make Charlie directly responsible.  Just 49%.

By the end of the day BattleGate had failed to get photos of me crying due to my expert skills at weeping only when in dark rooms or hidden behind giant biker dudes.  All three of us started to cry at the private memorial set up for astronauts killed in the line of duty only to be blasted with audio of George W. Bush’s well-written but nevertheless spoken by himself Challenger speech.  If I recall I actually said “You shut up” aloud.  Anyone who wastes trillions of dollars on killing people instead of sending people to Mars does not get to speak.

We ended the day by drinking Piña Coladas and eating lobster bisque.  True story.

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April 23rd, 2008 | Weird Science

9 Responses to “Review: Space Center Houston / NASA Tram Tour”

  1. aargh Says:

    Any place that has an exhibit containing the sentence, “She read using only the light from Earth.” should be treated with eternal awe and reverence.

  2. NASA JSC employee Says:

    This post cracked me up. Glad to see at least some of the general public is still enthusiastic about what we do. Sorry Charlie was such a peon – I hope he’s in the minority of the employees at Space Center Houston. Personally, I’m like you and think what we do is SO COOL I get geeked when I get to talk about it. Anyway, good post.

  3. subspace Says:

    Holy macaroni! A deep thanks for stopping by, sir or madam!

    I mean this in the most sincere way a blog comment can allow: visiting JSC was by far one of the highlights of my life. This goes a great deal toward explaining our frustration with Charlie: I would clean toilets at JSC if it meant playing role (however small) in space exploration, and watching someone not feel the same was hard.

    Goodness gracious I’m totally geeking out right now. NASA employee on our website! The heat of my blushing is going to wreck my laptop.

  4. xadrian Says:

    I lived in Houston for a few years and we did the tour too. When I was little we did the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and as a boy scout (yeah, no kidding) I got to tour Martin-Marietta while they were working on, if I remember correctly, Atlantis. This was about six months before Challenger. I was a big space nerd. This was really fun to read and well written, brought back some nice memories. Thanks for that.

  5. Padawan Valdez Says:

    Hey, Sub. You heard the one about the two Italian brothers who hacked the Soviet telemetry back in the day? Hm, I’m not sure if “hacked” would be appropriate. “Hacksawed,” perhaps. Anyway, back in the late 50′s these two Turin bro’s built a radio array that let them pick up Gagarin’s flight. And Laika’s. And a couple of transmissions in between, including an SOS and what sounded like labored breathing. Like, slowly suffocating labored.

    One more thing, apparently the SOS, which came first, didn’t Doppler properly. It moved way too slowly and got fainter. I know I don’t need to tell you what that means, but here goes anyway: the signal was moving slowly away from Earth. I don’t know any good books to recommend on the subject, but if you can get your hands on Fortean Times ish #233, it’s a fascinating article. And if you can’t get yer hands on that, drop me a line. You know where.

    The Force will be with you. Always.

  6. Padawan Valdez Says:

    Or should that be:

    May the Fourth be with you ?

  7. subspace Says:

    Wait, no! I want to know more about this SOS thing! Crap, now I’m going to spend all day Googling it, aren’t I? Yes.

    Also: good to hear from you, Valdez, very good.

  8. Kev Moore Says:

    I just adored visiting the Space Centre, as you say,visiting the VIP seats and peering into ACTUAL MISSION CONTROL was beyond words. I distinctly remember our family crashing in sleeping bags on the living room floor, watching man land on the moon as a wide-eyed 11 year-old boy. To be here was beyond awesome. Suffice to say, I have stumbled upon your site searching for sound bites related to space travel for a track on my next album “Blue Odyssey. It’s an instrumental called “Spaced” that will be overlayed with appropriate audio on the triumphs and failures, and I hope it will convey something of the sense of wonder that I felt that day.

  9. Former SCH Employee Says:

    I was once one of the mindless teens who worked out in trams at SCH. We called ourselves “trammies,” and I was cry laughing as I read this blog because I know and worked with Charlie aka Chuck. Probably one of our worst hosts at the time. Terribly sorry you went on tour with him, but this is a great blog post!

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