Dream of landing on the moon? You can’t get closer than the visitor center/museum alongside NASA's Johnson Space Center, where interactive displays explain past, present and future missions, with lots of eager anticipation of prospective Mars expeditions. Stages offer short audience-participation presentations, perfect for excited kids. Frequent 90-minute tram tours set off to see the center itself, where highlights include Mission Control (the ‘Houston’ in ‘Houston, we have a problem’), the Astronaut Training Facility and Rocket Park.
While manned US space missions such as the Apollo and shuttle programs were launched elsewhere – especially from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center – the planning, control and most of the training happened here. When the Johnson Space Center opened after the initial Mercury missions in 1963, it helped put Houston on the map, and it remains a major tourist attraction.
At busy periods, you may have to choose between tram tours of different parts of the Space Center, which resembles a fading 1960s college campus. Mission Control is the most exciting option. It actually holds several different control rooms, so you may see either the historic post used for the Apollo missions, or one that’s still in use, monitoring the daily progress of the International Space Station.
For a more in-depth experience, reserve ahead for a Level 9 Tour (Monday to Friday, $180), a four- to five-hour behind-the-scenes tour of NASA.