Imagine watching a rocket being assembled in a cavernous laboratory or standing next to a famous space capsule. Visiting a real space center where spaceships, shuttles, and satellites come to life is thrilling. Bring that vision to life on a tour of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

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. There was no way I was going to miss a chance to tour Goddard. 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 his first videos for NASA:

The Goddard campus is low and nondescript with close-set buildings rolling out across acres. You enter through a security center where you’re 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.

Inside the NASA Image Concept Lab.

Inside the NASA Image Concept Lab. The room is kept dark to facilitate their monitor work.

There are 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 door into testing bays. There’s a lot of intense manufacturing work being done. 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:

Inspired diligence

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. The pressure to get it right is spread out across an array 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 designed to become so in space. Still, 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.

Glimpse into the Goddard Clean Room, the largest in the world

Glimpse into the Goddard Clean Room, the largest in the world.

Yearly on Feb. 7th,  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”

A glimpse of the Goddard Supercomputer

A glimpse of the Goddard Supercomputer

 

Starship travel made possible with lots of testing and specialized equipment.

Starship travel made possible with lots of testing and specialized equipment.

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 starship 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: goddard-visitor-center-programs@lists.nasa.gov.

Details of a map showing NASA satellites currently in orbit.

Details of a map showing NASA satellites currently in orbit.

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 live from your home or computer

Watch NASA TV live from your home or computer

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.

The Silver Diner is transforming diner experiences with healthy options and charitiable giving.

The Silver Diner is transforming the classic American diner experience with healthy options and charitable giving.

TYSONS Corner Location  8101 Fletcher St.McLean, VA 22102

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.

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