Until Virgin Galactic launches into the cosmos on its first scheduled flight next year, one of the best immersive experiences for outer space enthusiasts is Space Center Houston, home of NASA and multiple exhibits featuring artifacts from the earliest space missions to current explorations.
A basic admission ticket gets visitors access to the 180,000 square foot facility, which has just become an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., but the best way to make the most of the journey here is to book two VIP experiences.
The first is the Level 9 Tour – it’s advisable to book well in advance because only a dozen people per day are allowed to participate. The behind-the-scenes experience provides exclusive access to areas few visitors ever get to see, including several National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) buildings that are part of the Johnson Space Center. You’ll be transported on a private bus and immediately skip lines for sections that also feature in the non-VIP tours.
The four-five hour tour (open only to guests aged 14 and up) includes lunch in the employee cafeteria (eating among actual astronauts), access to training facilities including the neutral buoyancy lab, and one-on-one access to ask questions of the highly qualified guide leading you.
Highlights include access to the historic mission control room where you can sit in the hot seat and pose for photos, unlike regular tour guests who only get to see the room from behind glass. There’s also a great deal of focus and in-depth information about the international space station as well as its Houston-based training version.
It’s good to split your visit to Space Center Houston into two separate days due to the sheer length of the tour, and make sure you include a Friday on your itinerary. Once a week astronauts take turns talking about their experiences in scheduled discussions open to all visitors. But the Lunch with an Astronaut program gives up-close-and-personal informal interaction, where you can pose for photos and ask your most pressing questions about space travel. The food may not be Michelin star, but the intimate nature of the experience more than makes up for it.
Both VIP experiences include access to the main exhibits, simulators, theaters and attractions at the visitor center.
Visiting the home of NASA means the sky’s no longer the limit.
Header image © Space Center Houston
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Written by Steven Lindsey