Texas: College Station & Houston

Howdy, Y’all! After a couple of days in Austin, we drove 2hrs east to College Station. This is a uni town, the Texas Aggricultural & Mechanical college, the 2nd biggest college by student body population (+50k!). They field an American football team that they’re VERY passionate about, the Aggies!

We decided to drive through the back country rather than highway; that way we could enjoy some Texan landscapes (and some very questionable policitical signs).

The stadium can accommodate over 103,000 fans – that’s a lot of cowboy boots! Pretty impressive for a team representing their college. They take their college football very seriously here!

So after some walking around town and looking around shops selling Aggies merchandise, we made our way to the Stadium to soak up the atmosphere before the game.

As our budget didn’t allow much better, we got tickets pretty high up the stadium but it allowed us to have a very impressive view over the whole complex. The stadium was around 5,000 people shy of selling out, as it was their first game back from holidays so it was an amazing atmosphere.

American football is slow though! They have breaks all the time, which makes it a very slow paced game to watch. Luckily for us the Aggies comfortably won, so the atmosphere remained really good until the end. We had to modify our plans and make a few adjustments to get out to College Station to see the game, but a great experience. A must do if you’re in the US at the right time.

On the next day, we woke up early to make our way as quickly as possible to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, over 2.5 hours drive away.

{Side note – If you wanted to make a real adventure out of it, the i10 freeway heading in to Houston from the west is the widest highway in the world. It is TWENTY-SIX lanes wide in places. Madness.}

Nick and I both quite enjoy astronomy and space science, so it was a mandatory stop on our itinerary.

As we read about the center and all the different activities you could do before getting there, we allocated 5 hours to visit. We thought this would be enough time, but in retrospect you’d need a full day, even probably two, to do everything there.

We arrived at midday (traffic!), and quickly got our time slot to visit the Mission Control building (you must pick a time slot) before making our way to a talk about the ISS.

In this 20min talk they provided a lot of information about the ISS, how it all started, how it runs to this day with the different countries involved, and the type of studies they run up there.

We then decided to check out the exhibition in the hall about the different missions they are currently on, or have ran in the past. This includes the Mars mission, ISS, and the space shuttle launches.

Then at 1.20pm, we attended a super interesting talk run by a now retired astronaut. He had performed 5 space walks and visited the ISS on multiple occasions, making him soooo interesting to listen to. He also presented other members of his STS 129 mission crew, all probably being the smartest people you could ever find (one of them apparently wrote his Harvard Phd in his spare time whilst studying at MIT, the most prestigious engineering university in the US and probably the world. Incredible!)

Before heading for our Mission Control Tour, we attended a quick presentation on the Apollo 11 mission as this year marks the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. We also went to see a presentation about living in the ISS, and the adjustments required. Very interesting.

It then reached the time we needed to get our tram to the Mission Control tour.

This tour starts with a tram taking you around the Space Center, which is mostly scattered office buildings for NASA employees.

The tram also drives around the location where 2 retired rockets are now parked, but unfortunately didn’t stop (this is part of the other tram tour, which sadly we couldn’t do because of time restriction as this tour takes about 1.5 hours to complete. You definitely need more than 5 hours to visit the whole site properly).

Then you arrive at the Mission Control, building where NASA employees are still in contact with American astronauts on the ISS today.

The Mission Control was awesome! They have restored all of the original artifacts, so it’s exactly how it was on the day of the moon landing (20th July 1969). Everything in the room looked super old, with old ashtrays everywhere, old computers, chairs, phones etc. For the recent 50th anniversary they did a re-enactment that saw all of the old Apollo 11 flight directors back in their chairs one final time. That was a couple of months ago, and would have been quite a sight.

When you enter the room, they play a video of the moon landing and everything that happened at the Mission Control and on the moon, moments before, during and after the landing.

It was fascinating and we’re sure it must have been such a special day for everyone witnessing such a big event in the 60’s.

After the tour it was time for us to go if we wanted to make sure we’d drop off the rental car on time, but when we got out, we realised you could get in and visit the space shuttle – we missed that part as weirdly the entrance is hidden at the back of the kids zone!

We ran back in to finish our visit properly and see the retired space shuttle.

Our way back was a painful traffic-jammed highway drive, worrying about making it on time to drop the car off before closing time. We made it by 4min! We also had a few scares on the way as the highways here are no joke! But all good in the end.

Our sole day in Houston was dedicated to strolling around the Montrose neighbourhood (not that great), then walk up to the Gus S. Wortham Fountain as it is a replica of the El-Alamein Fountain we have in our neighbourhood in Sydney.

We then headed back to our hotel through River Oaks, an old posh neighborhood in Houston (again, not too exciting).

We found Houston average at best, so we were happy to shorten our stay by a few hours and leave earlier than planed to New Orleans.

The only cool thing we did was having lunch at Snooze, a hipster brunch restaurant well known for its cooked bacon. And yes, it was amazing! Highly recommend.

#TheDexplorers

TIPS

  • If you are into astronomy and anything NASA related, 5 hours is nowhere near enough time to spend at the space Center. It opens at 10am and closes at 5pm, so if you only have 1 day, spend it all there to make the most out of it. You can pre-purchase tickets to save some time too.
  • There’s a McDonalds near the bus station in downtown Houston. Avoid!! It’s a homeless hangout, and apparently an armed guard is needed there most of the time (Nick didn’t see one when he had the pleasure of grabbing lunch, but he did have to wait in line with people fresh out of prison).

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