Imagine watching a rocket being assembled in a cavernous laboratory or standing next to a famous space capsule. If you dream of starship adventures, nudge that vision to life on a tour of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Visiting a real space center where spaceships, shuttles, and satellites come to life is more thrilling than any movie or book.
I’ve dreamed of starship travel, read the great authors of science fiction, and watched Star Wars, Close Encounters and Star Trek episodes over and over. So I jumped at a chance to tour the Goddard Space Center. However, just as with space flight, there was a finite window of opportunity for a private tour during my son’s year-long NASA Science Animation Fellowship.
Here’s one of my son’s first videos for NASA:
The Goddard campus is built low and nondescript with close-set buildings rolling out across acres. You enter through a security center and screened for an entrance badge. You’ll need a passport or drivers license and if you’re concerned about whether you can get in, check the website. I picked up my badge easily and rode over to the building that houses the Image Concept Lab, film studio, and media offices.
In the first building I visited there were viewing theaters, wide-screen monitors with climate change models, and El Nino ocean projections in the halls. The height of my tour was joining Walter Feimer, lead animator and supervisor at the Conceptual Image Lab, to walk through Building Five. We peered into chambers and through hallways and employee doors into testing bays. Everyone was working on intense manufacturing. Feimer condensed Building Five this way:
There’s, “a huge CNC Routing machine, and trades working on all the parts that come over to this building and are assembled. They’re tested for heat, cold, vibration, and noise to see how they work through that.”
Here’s a video from the tour:
I gained so much admiration for the multiple stresses that spaceships and satellites endure as they lift off and into orbit. There’s so much that needs to be anticipated and tirelessly tested.
Update: James Webb Telescope performs better than the most optimistic projections! –Cosmos Magazine, March 2022
The pressure to get it right is spread out through an army of experts working at different NASA centers across the country. Design engineers and scientists toil over the specifics. Equipment is assembled and tested, then taken to other facilities around the country for more research and testing. Disciplines and different branches of the government work and cooperate on the projects. The structures are massive or like the Webb Telescope, designed to unfold in space. For all the effort there are no guarantees that flights will succeed and failures of the most devastating kind have claimed the lives of more than fifteen astronauts over the decades.
NASA honors fallen astronauts with a Day of Remembrance
- The Columbia seven-member crew were 16 minutes from landing when a piece of foam, falling from an external tank during launch, opened a hole in one of the shuttles’ wings. The orbiter broke apart during re-entry.
- Just over a minute after launch in 1986, the Shuttle Challenger exploded when a booster engine failed and all seven astronauts perished.
- In 1967, the three-member crew of the Apollo 1 were still on the launchpad when a devastating fire broke out. They succumbed in the flames.
“We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for the journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.” ~ President Ronald Reagan quoting from the poem “High Flight”
Tour Goddard Space Flight Center
You don’t need connections to nurse your own starship travel fantasies and tour NASA’s Goddard Space Center. Free tours are open to the public year round. According to the website, small groups don’t need a reservation but it’s always good to let them know you are coming. School and other groups are also welcome but they need to set up their visits in advance.
Attend special events and bring your star ship travel dreams closer to reality
Goddard also welcomes you to events on-site. Inside the Visitors’ Center, you can observe Goddard’s innovations in Earth and planetary sciences, astrophysics, heliophysics and pioneering developments in space engineering, communications, and technology. Find out what’s happening through the newsletter, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monthly Model Rocket Launches
Monthly since 1976, model rocket builders and fans gather to fly at the Goddard Visitor Center. If you don’t have a rocket, supplies are available in the gift shop or just come to cheer the rocketeers on. Experts will help with launch and rocket construction tips. Weather can impact the event so call to check conditions on the day you want to attend. Contact the Visitor Center front desk at 301-286-8981.
Attend a Sunday Experiment
If your family is visiting on the third Sunday of the month attend a science, engineering research, or tech activity. Most are designed for kids five to ten years old but this isn’t just kids stuff. The Sunday Experiment also celebrates major science missions that are managed by NASA Goddard and set to launch in the near future. Registration isn’t required but call the visitor center to check on the program before going.
Watch NASA TV
If you can’t get to Goddard but want to catch up with the latest starship travel experiments tune into NASA TV. The online channel is hosted live from the space station.
Directions to Goddard Space Flight Center
Eat at the Silver Diner
Astronauts and scientists must get mighty hungry. I imagine more than one has eaten at the Silver Diner near Goddard. Besides the adorable retro details and bright colors, the menu features local ingredients with healthy updates on American classics.
May the force (of NASA!) be with you and your starship travel dreams come true. Until then, a visit to the Goddard Space Flight Center will inspire your visions with the real thing.