Dunedin Railway Station, Dunedin, South Island, New Zealand - Saturday, December 30, 2023

Dunedin Railway Station, Dunedin, South Island, New Zealand - Saturday, December 30, 2023
Dunedin Railway Station, Dunedin, South Island, New Zealand - Saturday, December 30, 2023

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

NASA's Level 9 Tour - Mon., Aug. 4

Bob pulled out all the stops for our visit to NASA. He bought tickets for the Level 9 Tour which makes you into a NASA VIP (your badge says so), and takes you to places the NASA tram tours don't (and some they do). Each Level 9 Tour is limited to 12 people. The tour includes lunch that you choose at a NASA employee cafeteria. The one thing the Level 9 Tour does not include is $6 for parking.

The NASA Space Center is located half-way between Houston and Galveston in Webster, Texas. It took us a little over 1/2 hour for the drive from the RV park to the Space Center. We were there when they opened at 10:00 a.m. to check in (at the Information Desk) for our badges, and instructions on where to meet for our 10:45 a.m. tour.

Before the tour, we spent time in the museum learning about the U.S. space program from Mercury, Galileo and Apollo missions to Skylab and the International Space Station (ISS).

At entrance to Space Center
Spacecraft on display in the museum
Each mission designs their own patches; below are some of my favorites (all were on display).
The first patch designed by Alan Shephard
"The Eagle has landed."

Below is the vault where they keep rocks and dirt from the moon.

Moon rocks
Diorama of a moon walk with a lunar rover.
We saw a portion of the museum and then it was time to head to our tour rendezvous point. On our way to the tram stop, we checked out a visitors' map of Mars.

As we waited for our tour guide, we watched hundreds of children go by us to get on the trams. Seems childrens' summer camps include a visit to Space Center. Boy am I glad we're on a Level 9 Tour!

We watched tram after tram depart the Space Center.

Notice all the kids in green shirts?!
Our guide arrived and took us out past the trams, acted like we were going to get on one, then took us around to our ride...

Our ride, a nice, air-conditioned chariot to the stars.
Ooooh, "Offical Vehicle." Starting to feel special.

Our first stop was off NASA property at the Neutral Bouyancy Laboratory (NBL) where astronauts are trained to deal with weightlessness in earth's closest approximation: a swimming pool. But not just any swimming pool! This pool is 40' 6" deep, 202 feet long, 102 feet across, and holds 6.2 million gallons of water. The NBL contains a full-size mock-ups of the International Space Station modules and payloads. In the pool astronauts perform simulated space walk tasks to help train them for missions in space.

The NBL is where the movie "Armageddon" filmed some of their scenes.

Neutral Bouyancy Lab
Looking into the pool at the full-size mock-up of the ISS.
At the bottom of the following photo is the platform that lowers two fully suited astronauts back-to-back into the pool. If you enlarge the photo, you can see where the astronauts place their backs against the support and where they rest their arms.

Platform to lower astronauts into NBL pool.
Flags of countries participating in the ISS hang in the NBL.
Below is a tribute to the astronauts and civilian who lost their lives in space program disasters.

That was our first tour stop and we were already thoroughly impressed. What more is in store?

Next stop? Space Vehicle Mock-up Facility. Here is where workers assemble full-size mock-ups of vehicles, transports, and components of the space station.

Components of the ISS

Vehicles to use on Mars for exploring the planet's surface.
They can hook up to each other for more space.
Below is the next generation of robot, an arachnid climber. Enlarge and read the description below it, it's quite fascinating.


Elon Musk, the inventor of the Tesla car, is now involved in space transportation. SpaceX, Musk's space company, is one of three private contractors bidding to shuttle supplies to the ISS. His brand is Dragon.

Dragon brand, SpaceX, Elon Musk's company
Next, we headed to the space shuttle training facility (Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory, SAIL for short). Our guide took us into the actual training cockpit for the space shuttle program. He took photos of us sitting in the training cockpit. Yeah!

Me in the space shuttle training cockpit
Bob in space shuttle training cockpit
Pilot and co-pilot. LOL.
We had an excellent lunch in the employee cafeteria. We could choose anything we wanted. Bob and I had tuna melts, I added a small side salad, Bob had brownies for dessert and I chose pecan pie. As we ate we were probably sitting next to astronauts and engineers. German was being spoken at the table next to us.

After lunch, we were whisked off to meet up with another Level 9 Tour at Mission Control Center. Our meet-up location was the viewing room for Mission Control for the International Space Station. Mission Control is manned 24/7/365.

A little background information: The Russians had technology to build the space station because of their experience with Mir. The U.S. brought the "trucks" to haul space station components in the form of the space shuttle program. Different pods were built for different purposes by different counties, yet all of the pods fit together flawlessly when they were installed in space. Truly international cooperation.

Mission Control for International Space Station
Mission Control Flight Director

Tracking the space station and satellites
From here, we went to the original mission control for the space program, which is now defunct. It is a room filled with old technology.

We got to goof around in the old Mission Control.

The original Mission Control.
Last, but not least, we went to see a Saturn V rocket.

Saturn V building - yes, this thing is huge!
Wildlife sighting outside Saturn V building.
Saturn V rocket
Bob standing between Stage 2 and Stage 3
Saturn V F-1 engines

How they move these behemoths around
 Below is my favorite astronaut quote:

Our guided tour was coming to an end. Throughout the tour, our group kept asking our guide what his position was at NASA. He obviously was pretty high up in the chain of command and kept taking phone calls throughout the day. He didn't really answer us until the end of the day when he brought out a book he wrote. If we had been paying attention in our tour waiting area at the beginning of the day we would have known who he was. Here's an advertisement for his book that was right above our heads as we waited.

Our tour guide was David Cisco, Apollo Alumni, Lunar Module Spacecraft Technician.  At the end of the tour he was selling and autographing his book for those of us on the tour.

Our tour guide, excellent
The total length of our tour was close to five hours. Information we learned was in depth and comprehensive. I recommend if you are going to Houston Space Center that you spend the extra money and take the Level 9 Tour. You are treated like VIPs. Well worth it.

After the tour, we spent a little more time in the Space Center.

Mock up of a lunar lander.
 For all you Star Trek fans out there, you can see a replica of the Galileo spacecraft.

This space suit looks like an alien took over.
In addition to a five-hour tour, your admission is good for another day. You need to sign a book at the Information Desk on your way out to let them know that you'll be back. (Must be used within ten days.) We will be going back tomorrow to use our second day. Stay tuned for more about Space Center.

After our long day at the Space Center, we went back to Galveston and explored a little. We drove to Galveston Island State Park (very basic sites - close together with no landscaping, but very close to the beach!) and along the seawall.

It had been a long time since lunch, so we scoped out a place for dinner. First we thought we'd go to Gaido's (a fish restaurant in business for 100 years). The menu was a bit steep for our budget and we didn't feel like we were dressed well enough to enter.

Luckily, next door is Nick's Kitchen and Beach Bar. The evening was balmy so we opted to sit outside on the covered patio for a nice view of the Gulf across the street.

All for tonight. Travel Bug spaced out.


  1. Looks like a super tour, can't wait to do the tour.

    1. I learned about things I didn't even know existed! Quite educational.

  2. Didn't know about the VIP tour, will have to do that.

    1. It's called the Level 9 Tour. We thought the value we received was worth the price. It truly is a VIP experience.

  3. Will definitely do the Level 9 Tour when we go ... thanks for the intro so we know what to expect.

  4. Sounds like we'll have to consider that tour when we hopefully go this winter.

  5. was there alot of walking on this tour?


Please let me know what you think, your experiences, and constructive criticism to make this blog stronger.