Sure, drone footage is great. But how often do you get to see 3 flying laboratories survey the breadth of Houston’s sprawl from this high up?
The trio of WB-57s shown surveying a hazy Houston in the video above are based at Ellington Field. The fleet is part of NASA’s WB-57 High Altitude Research Program, which regularly conducts scientific research and testing. Among its missions: mapping, collection of cosmic dust, support of rocket launches, and flights over hurricanes, including recent storms Joaquin and Patricia. Eerie faded-Emerald-City scenes of Downtown, the Galleria, the Med Center, and other vertical standouts unfold beneath the wingtips. The flight, which took place before Thanksgiving (but for which footage was only posted to YouTube this week) marks the first time since the early 1970s that 3 WB-57s have flown together.
The Saturn V rocket originally planned to boost a never-happened Apollo 18 spaceflight has been lying on its side near the corner of Saturn Ln. and 2nd St. and aimed at Lake Jackson since 1977. An air-conditioned, metal-framed structure was built around the Smithsonian-owned hulk 10 years ago to protect it from the elements, but it makes it difficult for visitors to appreciate just how hulking the rocket is. And recently the new structure has begun to look a bit dilapidated as well. Unprompted by any government agency or basketball team, San Antonio architect Brantley Hightower has been floating a proposal to wrap a more permanent structure around Houston’s most prominent rocketship — one that would restore the drive-by view of its full length (above) that the existing enclosure ruined, and make it clear just how big the Saturn V was:
The homes depicted in the teevee version of The Astronaut Wives Club may turn out to be a bit more landlocked than the actual Space Age family spreads they’re modeled after. Location scouts for the upcoming ABC mini-series, which will be based on the book by Lily Koppel, appear to be steering clear of the actual Clear Lake-area neighborhoods the original 7 astronaut families lived in — and pushing west instead. Real estate agent Robert Searcy tells Swamplot the location scouts who contacted him were looking for a neighborhood with original-looking mid-fifties-era houses. So he passed info around to owners he knew about, letting them decide if they wanted to open up their homes to teevee crews: “They also contacted Houston Mod,” Searcy says:
“Apparently [the site scouts] are most interested in what they loosely described as ‘mid-range’ homes of the era, not updated. I got them in a few houses in Glenbrook Valley and a couple in Meadowcreek Village, including the Mackie & Kamrath one over there, but I think some of the mods were a bit too grand for what they are looking for. They seem to be most focused on Willowbend right now. So if you live in Willowbend in a non-updated house, don’t be shocked if you get a note on your door!”
Tweeting from low Earth orbit on board the International Space Station, NASA astronaut and Clear Lake City resident Rick Mastracchio sends out this spiderweb-like nighttime image he snapped of Houston. What’s that bright spot in the section in the lower right? “Think I left my lights on!” he writes.
HOUSTON’S WAREHOUSED ROCKETSHIP Comparing it to displays of Saturn rockets in Florida and Alabama, space historian Dwayne Day finds Space Center Houston’s model of the Apollo program leftover parked in a Johnson Space Center shed structure and looking somewhat forlorn: “. . . the building containing the Saturn V is starting to deteriorate. Interior insulation is starting to crack and peel, showing considerable degradation from my last visit a year ago. This simply reinforces the impression that the Saturn V is being stored in a big garage. Houston has had the Saturn V for decades. It has housed it indoors for almost seven years, and yet the city has not improved the presentation or shown any indication that it intends to display the Saturn V with any of the affection and intelligence that the Kennedy and Huntsville communities have given to their Saturn Vs. If you look at what Houston has done it is hard not to wonder if they would have treated a shuttle orbiter with the same indifference.” [Space Review; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Dwayne Day
Houston may have missed out on its opportunity to play host to one of the 4 retired orbiters doled out recently by NASA. But it will end up with a space-shuttle-related attraction that jibes well with the Johnson Space Center’s longtime role as a practice and simulation site for training astronauts. Space news website CollectSpace is reporting that Space Center Houston will soon receive the Space Shuttle Explorer, a full-size orbiter mockup currently on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.
One advantage of the Explorer over the 4 orbiters Houstonians wanted but couldn’t get (besides not having any layers of space dust to clean off): Visitors will be able to walk through it.
A ROCKETSHIP RELAUNCH FOR THE JOHNSON SPACE CENTER? Construction of the new Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, the first new NASA spacecraft built for manned orbit since 1991, began earlier this week — in New Orleans (photo). And final assembly will take place in Florida. But a “senior administration official” tells space-beat reporter Todd Halvorson that the new 30-story tall Space Launch System for Orion that NASA is announcing today — with the strong support of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison — will provide a “stable future” for Houston’s Johnson Space Center and 3 other human-space-flight facilities around the country. [Florida Today; NASA] Photo: NASA
COMMENT OF THE DAY: TOURISM, THE FINAL FRONTIER “Let’s face it, if you’ve ever been to Space Center Houston, it’s mostly geared towards elementary school field trips. It wasn’t til just a few years ago, one of the *real* crown jewels of America’s leftover space hardware, a complete friggin Saturn V, was even given a roof to protect it from the elements for posterity. I love NASA and remember being able to run around all over the campus with nary a locked door as a kid, but JSC simply hasn’t kept up with being a top toursist destination, domestically or internationally. Much like other ‘attractions’ in Houston, people see them incidentally when here visiting relatives or on business, they’re not destinations in themselves. I swear I think more people come down 45 and 59 from other states to see Galveston than Houston. Maybe we need to build that giant dome over the Loop after all to get some tourist cred.” [SL, commenting on Why No Shuttle for Houston? Because Space Center Houston Isn’t So Big with the Tourists]
If y’all had come to Space Center Houston, they’d have built a home for a retired space shuttle there. Well, maybe. Today’s report of the NASA inspector general points out a few details in the story of how Houston lost out in the retired-space-shuttle home sweepstakes. At a presentation given to NASA administrator Charles Bolden in November 2009, 4 out of 5 options being considered at the time by the agency’s recommendation team would have given Houston a shuttle. And Bolden says Houston was a sentimental favorite for him, too. He told investigators
that if it had been strictly a personal decision, his preference would have been to place an Orbiter in Houston. He noted that “[a]s a resident of Texas and a person who . . . spent the middle of my Marine Corps career in Houston, I would have loved to have placed an Orbiter in Houston.”
Among the items of space booty collector and CollectSPACE.com founder Robert Pearlman lays out in the living room of his Houston apartment for a visit from USA Today reporter Donna Leinwand Leger: a 200-lb. aluminum hatch made for the International Space Station, a tile from a space shuttle, a thruster from one of the Gemini missions, and the possibly-still-crunchy pièce de résistance: a small plastic package of toasted bread cubes carried by astronaut Michael Collins on the Apollo 11 flight. The croutons came as a throw-in bonus when Pearlman bought a $100 NASA contractor commemorative medallion on eBay several years back. The unopened package is signed by Collins and Buzz Aldrin. On an episode of PBS’s “Antiques Roadshow” 5 years ago, appraiser Gary Piattoni valued the well-traveled condiments at $25,000.