Space Center Houston planning expansion that would allow for astronaut training, guest experience

Space Center Houston (Courtesy Space Center Houston)
Space Center Houston (Courtesy Space Center Houston)

Space Center Houston (Courtesy Space Center Houston)

Editor's note: The story was updated at 5:40 p.m. Oct. 8 with further clarification from Space Center Houston officials.

Despite the pandemic taking a toll on Space Center Houston's operations, staff is still thinking long term of new attractions for the museum, including an area where astronauts would train and guests would be able to go through the ringer themselves.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on Space Center Houston, the Bay Area's No. 1 attraction, but the museum has already innovated during the pandemic, using NASA as inspiration.

Behind the museum is 48 acres of woodlands. The museum has a conceptual plan to turn the land into Mars and lunar yards, said Meridyth Moore, communications supervisor for the museum.

Both yards would allow guests to train how to operate robots and perform other tasks as if they were living on the surface of the moon or Mars, which astronauts will actually be doing in the coming years. The yards would be the first time the museum, which sits on Johnson Space Center property, could possibly provide training space for astronauts, as Johnson Space Center is running out of adequate room to train astronauts, Moore said.

Additionally, a potential astronaut training course would allow guests to experience what it is like to train like an astronaut and see if they have what it takes, Moore said.

“It’s the most unique future experience ... here on the grounds you’ll be able to get anywhere. We know no one is doing anything like this,” she said.

Other long-term goals include creating an entrance to the museum at Rocket Park and building a sky bridge that would allow residents to travel between the museum and the park without needing to take the tram, Moore said.

“... NASA is all about inspiration and inspiring during challenging times. That’s what NASA does so well,” Chief Operating Officer Mary Baerg said, noting Space Center Houston wanted to similarly be a place where guests could still be amazed despite the pandemic.

While there is no central exhibit in the museum's main plaza, there is a new exhibit Space Center Houston staff have put together called “Mission: Control the Spread.” The exhibit shows the way NASA is using technology and research to address COVID-19, Moore said.

“That’s one way we decided we’d be able to add to the conversation,” she said.

Additionally, just before closing, the museum opened a new outdoor exhibit of a flown Falcon 9 rocket from commercial aerospace company SpaceX.

While Space Center Houston is open at limited capacity, it is unclear when it will return to normal operations and see the over 1 million guests that were visiting annually before the pandemic began. But Space Center Houston is doing what it can to improve the guest experience while thinking ahead, Moore said.

“We’re looking ahead not only through what 2021 looks like,” she said. “We still have to keep our eye on the future.”
By Jake Magee
Jake Magee has been a print journalist for several years, covering numerous beats including city government, education, business and more. Starting off at a daily newspaper in southern Wisconsin, Magee covered two small cities before being promoted to covering city government in the heart of newspaper's coverage area. He moved to Houston in mid-2018 to be the editor for and launch the Bay Area edition of Community Impact Newspaper.



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