Texas – Days 3-4: Nerd Alert! Embracing My Inner Child in Houston

After my oil change in Dallas I made my way to Houston. I made it to the Art Car Museum less than an hour before they closed, which happened to be the perfect amount of time. The Art Car Museum focuses on cars that people decorate and that usually earn funny looks from the wary passerby. They had three art cars on display. One just looked like a classic car. One was a classic car, with a twist. One I wanted because the seats fold down to make a bed across the entire interior which would be sweet on this road trip. The third car had mosaic glass tiles placed together all over it. It was pretty sweet.

Can you picture me rolling across the country in this? Car Art Museum, Houston, TX.

Can you picture me rolling across the country in this? Car Art Museum, Houston, TX.

There were also come cool paintings and a neat video introducing some other art car artists and their cars. There were nine tvs stacked in rows of three showing the video. The center tv was the “normal one.” Then the screens around that were reflections, the center top one was in black and white, and the one to the right of center had no image at all. I didn’t get to watch the whole video, nor am I sure how long it was, but what I did see was pretty neat. There was a car covered in buttons, one in Mardi Gras beads, and one that used any kind of found material. The artist of that last one said we should re-evaluate what we consider disposable because nothing is disposable, which I thought was interesting. There was also a guy who grew grass on his car…

The video at the Car Art Museum, Houston, TX.

The video display at the Car Art Museum, Houston, TX.

My hosts in Houston recommended I check out a few places while I was in the area near the Art Car Museum, so I did. The first one was the yard of this artist’s house that had all these large sculptures in the backyard facing the street. From what I could tell they were made mostly of metal and found material and all seemed to be sort of creature-like. The next place was called Beer Can House. Yep. A house made out of beer cans. Apparently it’s a visionary art museum but it was closed when I got there. 🙁

Beer Can House, Houston, TX.

Beer Can House, Houston, TX.

After that I met my hosts and they took me out for dinner at Armadillo Palace. My hosts, who are originally from Wisconsin, said they love taking guests to Armadillo Palace because it is just so classically Texan. I must say, I see why they think so. Long horns, and lots of other kinds of horns were a prominent feature of the interior decor and I didn’t notice at first, but the bar stools were actually shaped like saddles. Now that’s hardcore. Oh, and did I forget to mention the giant armadillo sculpture out front?

Armadillo Palace, Houston, TX.

Armadillo Palace, Houston, TX.

After dinner my hosts took me on a driving tour of Houston. We went through the ritzy neighborhood, the Galleria shopping district, the former hippie – now yuppie neighborhood, and stopped at the Waterwall at Williams Tower. The Waterwall was by far my favorite thing on our driving tour. According to my hosts the Waterwall powers the AC for the entire Williams Tower and according to Google the Williams Tower is 64 stories tall and the Waterwall reflects that height in its own 64 feet. The Waterwall is in a horseshoe shape. It’s just awe-some. Inside the horseshoe reminded me of Niagara Falls. So. Freaking. Cool. I probably wouldn’t have found the Waterwall on my own so huzzah for my Couchsurfing hosts and their sharing awesome places with me.

Before arriving in Houston I did my regular Google search to see what “things to do in Houston” there were. The number one result was the Space Center. I figured I’d come back to that and kept looking at the list. About halfway through I was like, wait, what space center? Then the phrase, “Houston, we have a problem.” floated to the top of my thoughts and I went…wait, that space center?!

Admission to the Space Center was steep. $24.95, but there was no way I was going to miss this. Especially after I realized I’d already missed the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Lame.

I figured I might as well plan to spend the whole day at the Space Center because my younger self desperately wanted to be an astronaut and I figured my inner child would come alive and it’d be nearly impossible to tear me away. My hosts helped me formulate a game plan to make sure I’d see everything and I’m so glad they did.

I spent seven hours at the Space Center my first full day in Houston. SEVEN HOURS. Three or four is usually my max at a museum, though to be fair standing and sitting at the Space Center was pretty evenly distributed, so that probably helped.

First, I went and watched the orientation video to the right of the entrance in the Destiny Theater. That then led to the Starship Gallery. In the Starship Gallery I got to touch a moon rock! Then I got a timed entry for a Tram ride and had about forty minutes until it was my time so I wandered over and was learning about the International Space Station when a lady started doing a presentation about it. I think it was geared towards kids, but I sat in the front row and laughed at all her corny jokes and had a great time anyway. Like I said, I knew my inner child would come out…

I got to touch a real moon rock at Space Center Houston! Houston, TX.

I got to touch a real moon rock at Space Center Houston! Houston, TX.

Here are some fun facts I learned about the International Space Station (ISS): 1. They have Wifi…so they can watch Netflix! Can you imagine a world where they couldn’t?! NASA (and other) Astronauts living in space in 2016 and they couldn’t even manage a Wifi connection…?! 2. They recycle urine i.e. pee gets filtered and drank again…and again…and again… Not going to lie, that still kinda grosses me out. 3. In space astronauts lose muscle mass and bone density so they are required to work out at least two hours a day to minimize the effects of microgravity. 4. The condition of losing muscle mass and bone density is called “Chicken Legs.” 5. A flame in microgravity happens in a circular shape rather than the tear drop shape on Earth. 6. It is possible and easy to combine metals in microgravity, though it is nearly impossible to do so on Earth.

After the ISS presentation I went on the tram tour to Mission Control. Orion Mission Control, where I got to go, is where NASA will choreograph the first human landing on Mars. How cool is that?! What I thought was even cooler, was that the International Space Station (ISS) Mission Control had been  temporarily relocated to the Orion Mission Control room because the ISS Mission Control room was getting an upgrade (they were still running on Windows XP…). So on our tour we got to see ISS Mission Control live and in action. What’s better is that they put up a video feed from ISS on the big main screen so we could see what was happening in space! We got to see two astronauts float by from inside the ISS! SO. FREAKING. COOL! One even waved, smiled at the camera, and did a flip! Oh, and in the background they were getting ready to watch the Super Bowl. So, in case you were wondering, the Super Bowl audience is so big it reaches beyond the boundaries of the Earth. Literally.

ISS Mission Control, NASA Headquarters, Houston, TX.

Not sure which astronaut that is…ISS Mission Control, NASA Headquarters, Houston, TX.

In case you’re interested, here’s a quick summary of the all the important parts of Mission Control: There’s the Flight Director, or Main Boss, Capcom, the only one in direct contact with the astronauts, Cronus, who runs the cameras, Ethos, who checks the environment, Spartan, who works with the solar panels, Adco, who deals with the orbit, latitude, longitude etc., Iso, who keeps track of all the ISS inventory, Ops Planner, who gives astronauts their daily schedule and is nicknamed “mom”, and Ground Control, who communicates with all other ground controls so if one loses contact with ISS somewhere else someone is always in contact with ISS. Pretty cool, right?

There are currently six men living on the ISS. Two Americans, Scott Kelly and Tim Korpa, three Russians, Milhaud Kornienko, Sergei Vilkov, and Yuri Malenchenko, and one British guy, Tom Peake. Kelly and Kornienko are the first people to stay in space for a whole year and they’re set to return on March 22, 2016 – so keep any eye out for that, I’m sure it’ll be in the news. Oh, and Scott Kelly has an identical twin brother, Mark, so they’re going compare the two of them when Scott returns from his year in space. Should be pretty interesting…

As soon as I got back to the museum I headed right back out on the other tram to the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility. It’s basically a big playground for engineers. They have a mock up of the International Space Station so they can train astronauts and troubleshoot problems that the real ISS is experiencing. It reminded me of being in an event space for a theatre gig. Lots of work boxes and tools and truss and motors and mechanical things I could only begin to imagine the use for. It was cool. I wish I could’ve seen it with people working in it though (I was at the Space Center on a Sunday so no one was there).

I went to the Space Center Theater for a movie called Journey to Space. It was on a huge IMAX screen and was pretty interesting. Then I went and checked out the shuttle and it’s 747 lift in front of the Space Center. Seeing all the controls in the cockpit, not to mention the complete lack of nature inside any of the facilities, made me really glad I’d decided against being an astronaut all those years ago. I’d still totally love to go to space sometime, don’t get me wrong, just maybe only as a space tourist, which is apparently a thing three lucky people have done already…

Shuttle and 747 Lift outside Space Center Houston, Houston, TX.

Shuttle and 747 Lift outside Space Center Houston, Houston, TX.

Next I saw two presentations in the Blast-Off Theater. One was about the Curiosity rover on Mars and the future Orion Mission to land a human on Mars and the other was about the International Space Station. I talk fast. I’m told that a lot. This guy though… I was barely keeping up with him and able to process everything he was saying. There was an hour between presentations, presumably because they should take a while, but the first one was over in twenty minutes. The second finished in just twelve minutes…whoa. Speedy. 

Oh, I almost forgot about Rocket Park. On the way back from the second tram ride I went to Rocket Park. It was so cool. I knew rockets were big, but actually standing next to one is really mind-blowing. Seriously, every time I fly in a plane I’m like, how is this possible? Standing next to a rocket ship and realizing we sent humans into outer space and landed them on the moon, was absolutely impossible to comprehend.

I was born into and grew up in a world where we’d already been to the moon. I also totally remember getting our first home computer and having dial up internet. As of late I sometimes have to stop myself and marvel at the fact that I have endless knowledge waiting for me in my pocket. Until my visit to the Houston Space Center I never truly grasped just how ridiculously amazing landing on the moon was. Landing on the moon today, sure, yeah, ok, technology today is pretty crazy. But landing on the moon using technology from the 1960s?! That’s freaking crazy! How was that even possible?! Pure insanity. In the best possible way. What an awesome and educational day!

On my way out of Houston the next day I tried to stop at the Sam Houston Park to check out the historic houses my hosts had shown me on our driving tour but, again, couldn’t find a place to park. Finally I parked at the Buffalo Bayou Park and was going to walk back to the Sam Houston Park, but it was really windy and nippy and so I decided against it. Instead, I went to Common Bond Cafe & Bakery to see if the $3.50 cookie my host had talked about the other day was, in fact, worth it like he said. The cookie was chocolate chunk walnut. The diameter was about three inches. At the center its height reached about one inch. This was no small cookie. On my first bite I was underwhelmed, for all the hype, it just tasted like a cookie. A good cookie, sure, but for the price? I wasn’t so sure… I took another bite, this one into the center. Oh, I said to myself, Oh. My. Wow. I see now. This cookie… Yeah. This cookie was totally worth $4 (including taxes). Then I thought, man, if I ever have to choose the last thing I eat before I die it might have to be this cookie. It was that good…

The rest of the day was mostly uneventful. I drove past and then looped back around to stop at a Trader Joe’s on my way to Austin. I love Trader Joe’s. Two salads just barely breaks my food budget for one day. And they’re good, hearty salads. Plus, Trader Joe’s always has free samples and I LOVE free samples! Then again, who doesn’t love free samples?

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