Went to JSC today...

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luke strawwalker

Well-Known Member
Jan 18, 2009
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Took Keira down to Johnson Space Center (well, actually, Space Center Houston, which is our sorta "Chucky Cheese" version of a space museum/visitor center) for her annual "Space Camp" day... This year she signed up for "Aliens and Astronauts", which was one of the choices of activities for the day (Mom wanted her to do the one on robotics, but she wanted to do the Aliens and Astronauts thing because it was ADVERTISED as being about Mars, what we've learned about Mars and the search for life there, and the challenges of Mars exploration. Sounded interesting, and since the aspiration she's spoken several times of over the last year or so is to be "the first woman on Mars", I figure it'll be a good thing for her... give her some insight into the problems and challenges and the reasons for going (someday far, far in the future).

First the good news... she had SOME fun, and was SOMEWHAT interested. Now the bad news... The program was NOTHING like what they advertised! Instead of learning ANYTHING about Mars, or the search for life there, or about Mars exploration challenges, or basically ANYTHING having to do with spaceflight, after she got her T-shirt and meal order turned in, and they trotted them off in groups to their class and we left before SCH opened (because Betty didn't get any half-price tickets and I didn't see paying $50 bucks for the two of us to stay, and she wanted to go shopping at Half Price Books just up the street, which I always love doing because you get a lot of great stuff there being so close to the space center... more on that later!)

SO, they trot them off to some buildings outside where they hold the "classes"... and instead of learning about Mars, they each build an Alpha III model rocket. Ummm-kay, that's good and all, but she just finished an Estes Freefall a couple weeks ago and we're working on an Estes Neon right now... she loves the tubefin concept... she even discussed it with one of her little newfound friends at the camp today, and they both thought it was very cool. The Alpha III was sort of "old hat" to her, but she enjoyed it... They built the rockets basically from 8:30 til about 12-ish when they went to lunch. After lunch, they took them out to the runway where the NASA/Houston Rocket Club flies, just behind one of the buildings inside the JSC property, catty-corner from the Saturn V building, and they launched their rockets. The camp people installed the ignitors and motors, and launched the rockets for them (they weren't allowed to push the button), and then recovered the rockets for them (they weren't allowed to go get their own rockets). Go figure... Anyway, Keira's rocket came apart, because they gave them school glue to put it together, and it only had maybe an hour to dry between completion of construction and flying it. She put it back together and said she'd use some of my "stronger WHITE glue" when she got home... (clever girl! I guess she's paying attention! We had a discussion about adhesives and their properties and better choices for such short drying times in the vehicle because of this). Anyway, after they flew their rockets and got them to take home, they returned to the visitor center outbuildings and made a batch of some sort of "slime" and played with that, and then they gave them little hollow alien head "bottles" that they then filled with colored sand to make an "alien" to take home. Okay, artsy-fartsy crafts. This was SUPPOSED to be an educational, science-y activity, hopefully to inspire and inform her... She had fun with the rockets and the crafts, but REALLY?? She could have done ALL this stuff at home, at Girl Scouts, or at
4-H club, and NOT had us drive 65 miles to the south side of Houston and pay $55 bucks for her "camp"... At least she wasn't "turned off" by it, just disappointed, but she did have some fun to temper that... Betty was NOT happy, and I wasn't either. Betty's currently working her way up the management tree to give them what-for; she tried calling the camp director, but apparently NOBODY in that office will answer the phone-- leave a "detailed message" and someone will call you back... Yeah right!

*I* said that it sounded to me like they were just "phoning it in" since this was one of the last "camps" of the summer season. Now, I know this isn't going to be graduate level student stuff... but SERIOUSLY... they work for friggin' NASA, or more accurately a subcontractor working for NASA, you're at the premier human spaceflight center in the United States, you have a friggin' Saturn V, a rocket garden full of rockets and rocket engines, a museum, and a center full of employees of every stripe from astronauts to administrators to controllers to engineers to scientists to doctors to flight directors to technicians on down... and you can't get SOMEONE to come speak to these kids about Mars?? You've got probably 10,000 retired folks in the surrounding communities who retired from those jobs at NASA, many of whom are volunteers at the visitor center, on tours, etc... and you couldn't get any of THEM to come speak about Mars?? SERIOUSLY?? They had TWO trams parked back by the buildings to take the kids out to launch rockets, but you couldn't take them by the former Shuttle Training Facility (now the "Space Training Facility" if memory serves, renamed since the shuttle retirement...) and maybe, just maybe, get someone who knows about all that stuff visible from the glassed-in catwalk that the tours go through above the floor where all the astronauts and technicians work, where they have the cool 4 wheeler with the robonaut grafted onto the front, the new rover, the MMSEV mock-up, and a bunch of other stuff that they're tinkering with (none of it funded past the "plywood" stage, but still 'experimental models' of what they're trying to develop to test ideas for Mars equipment "someday"...) Anybody?? Seriously??

I mean, it could have been worse... at least they're building rockets... but it wasn't what was advertised... I mean, come on... it's NASA... hello... the parents (who still have a job) at NASA get a discount to send their kids to the camps. Okay, these are not your typical "meh, babysit 'em a few hours til their parents come get them..." type kids... These are the smart kids... Heck Keira has maxed out the scoring on the school's "reading proficiency" tests... (she scored a 47, which IIRC is the top of the line at the third grade level, which is to say they 'stop counting' at 47... When I was in school, I was reading at the fifth grade level in second or third grade... but they don't want to "quantify" it for the kids that way anymore, so they pull these numbers "out of their butt" that don't mean anything to anybody except the beancounters that understand how the testing works... that way the kids can't brag and make other kids "feel bad" because "they're not as smart" or some such sociological garbage nonsense puke...) Keira's testing puts her in the 99nth percentile NATIONWIDE across math, reading, and science. Let's just say, she's a sharp kid... She's curious about Mars, and aspires to go there one day, and instead of INSPIRING her curiosity, instead of perhaps sparking her interests in exo-biology, or in space medicine, or systems engineering, or materials science, or whatever.... instead they plunk them down with a bottle of school glue and some spare Alpha III kits, and sand and "little gray alien" plastic bottle heads and colored sand... :facepalm:

What's worse, she came out sick... she was a bit flushed in the cheeks... surprise, surprise, since the kids couldn't push the launch button and couldn't go retrieve their rockets, they got bored between flights and played instead... ummm-kay, but it was 100 degrees today (or bumping up against it) and with the high pressure and humidity, it was a heat index of 107-108... They didn't give the kids ANY WATER while they were out there, and I don't think any when they got back! She was dehydrated... we stopped for frogurt on the way home, and she didn't eat hers... sipped at a bottle of water and put her head down on the steel table to cool off... Okay, they can't budget for a bottle of water per kid?? They can't do what the county does on my brother's service truck, and get a big cooler and fill it with ice and water and buy a pack of Dixie cups?? REALLY?? In 100 degree plus heat with LITTLE KIDS running around out there for over an hour??

My nephew, who graduated from Purdue a few years ago with his bachelor's in aerospace engineering and minor in nuclear engineering, and who's been a schoolteacher in science and coaching the last two years (and hopes to continue) went with us. When we signed her in this morning, signed the medical forms and all that, lined up and got her T-shirt and name sticker (ID), then got in line to make her lunch selection (burger, chicken tenders, cheese pizza, hot dog, etc, then choose a drink, either white milk, chocolate milk, orange juice, apple juice, Pepsi, Sierra Mist, etc)... My nephew said, "What, no TANG??" I busted out laughing... As we walked to the museum exhibits while we waited for them to get everyone checked in and moved out, I told him, "Yeah, I'm surprised that they don't just hand out the meals when you make your selection-- read you the choices, and when the kid says what they want, pull out a toothpaste tube out of the different boxes and go "okay, here's your hamburger" or "here's your cheese pizza", space food style... LOL:)" Jeremy said, "yeah, but it'd probably be NASA surplus from Apollo or Skylab or something... flip the package over and it would say "expired in 1968" on it... LOL:) We had a good laugh. I told him, "No, they don't have any NASA surplus food left-- they sold it all to Chartwells, who now has the contracts to run the school cafeterias... (Keira wanted me to come eat lunch with her during public school week, which I did... they literally eat "astronaut style" in that they don't have cafeteria ladies who cook anymore-- they have a couple "servers" who are quite adept at REHEATING stuff... Basically when the kids go through the lunch line, the ladies grab a plate, they choose what they want (usually a no-meat quesadilla or cheese pizza or something (gotta make sure that it doesn't violate the dietary laws of the Muslims and Hindus) which looks to be made out of stale newspaper-thin tortillas with a little dry cheese melted in/on it), then choose their vegetable, usually corn or peas, which is in those little plastic pull-top "pudding cups", and then choose a fruit, again in a pull-top pudding cup... then a half-pint of chocolate, white, or strawberry nonfat milk or about a teaspoon full of watered-down apple juice in a tiny little cardboard box... All that for like $1.50 a head... :facepalm: Is it any wonder when the kids got on my schoolbus when I used to drive for the school that the first thing they did was break open their backpacks and start breaking into bags of tater chips, cookies, candy bars, sodas, and whatever else, and swapping and sharing and passing stuff around among their friends?? The school "starves" the kids so they don't get fat, but since a lot of them are latch-key kids or whatever, when they get home they usually break open a bag of tater chips or whatever they can find to nuke in the kitchen and eat the whole thing while flopping down on the couch to watch Spongehead Squarebob or whatever... :facepalm:

One day Keira and one of her friends at breakfast in the cafeteria at school... her friend got "pancakes", which again, come pre-packaged as "dollar size" pancakes in a little package like a Reesees Peanut Butter Cups... her friend tore the package open... the "pancakes" had red flecks in/on them... they thought "weird... must be strawberry syrup or something" and she ate them... Said they tasted funny... When they flipped the package over, the expiration date was passed a YEAR ago... IE OUT OF DATE BY A YEAR!! After that her mom got her a phone and told her to take pictures of the wrapper next time so they could complain to Big 2 News on TV... :y:

Anyway, I got some bargains at Half Price Books... they usually have a great selection of space books, with so many NASA folks living in the area, and they buy books, so a lot of folks who retire, move, or change jobs will usually come down and unload their excess books for what they can get for them, kinda "thin the herd" before moving. I think there was some cleaning out of offices in JSC as well, (surprise surprise, since the place is like a ghost town compared to what it used to be just a few years ago, what with Constellation's cancellation and Shuttle retirement). There was a NASA history office copy of "The history of the NASA Stennis Space Center" on the shelf, complete with the NASA history office letterhead letter inside the front cover, with a short letter explaining that the NASA history office published these books and sent them to facilities, centers, and contractors who might have been "profoundly influenced" or involved in the activities in the book's subject matter... that was cool, but I couldn't afford EVERYTHING... as it was, I got a copy of "Suddenly Tomorrow Came- The History of Johnson Space Center", missing the dust jacket, but probably from inside NASA itself (they have a library for employees IIRC inside JSC). Also got "Keeping The Dream Alive-- Putting NASA and America Back In Space" by Michael C. Simon, July 1987 (18 months after Challenger). The inside cover is signed by "Wendell Mendell", which is a name that sounded awfully familiar to me... turns out I was right-- he's a planetary scientist at JSC-- some of his reports are on the NTRS website among others... Cool stuff... I also got "Project Apollo- The Tough Decisions" by Dr. Robert Seamans, who was a famous NASA manager during the Apollo Project. I also got the previously mentioned "Suddenly Tomorrow Came- The History of JSC", minus the dust cover, and a big coffee-table book "Space Probes- 50 years of exploration from Luna 1 to New Horizons" by Phillippe Seguela... love the robotic history stuff as well, and this has a lot of narrative as well as pictures, in a historical format. Also found a book for Keira, maybe to inspire her, called "Postcards from Mars- the first photographer on the Red Planet" by Jim Bell... It's a big coffee-table style book full of high res mosaics and landscapes and orbital photography, interspersed with discussions and text about the subject, the spacecraft, history, geology, etc... It was autographed by Jim Bell, the front inside page reads "For Rick- Explorer, Astronaut, & future Martian?? Enjoy the view when you get there! Mars Rocks! -Jim Bell. VERY cool stuff... helped take the sting out of the disappointment of her day... course her puking from heat and dehydration didn't allow her to enjoy it...

We ate lunch at Twin Peaks... I'd heard about the place, and for SOME REASON my 20-something young single nephew wanted to eat there, so I acquiesced and agreed to go along... My wife was either clueless or playing along. Somehow I don't think they're 'lumberjack' costumes would really cut it in the woods... There was more left out of it than in it... LOL:) We had a really nice waitress, VERY attractive, but her voice... OMG... I leaned over and whispered to my wife and nephew, "I didn't know Minnie Mouse had a sister!" and when Betty said something about not being able to understand what she said at one point (because of the noise in the place, in addition to her high-pitched voice) I told her quietly, "ask the dog-- I'm sure they could hear her perfectly"... I know, I'm bad, but I was in a joking mood earlier today (til we picked up Keira after her camp).

We also hit the Hobby Lobby down there. The "Oddyssey Hobbies" store closed, as someone on the Papermodeling forum had told me-- it's a Harbor Fright store now or something... scratch one LHS... I found some interesting stuff while there that some of you guys might be interested in... pics to follow...

Anyway, it was a fun day, but I just rue how they "dumb down" what is SUPPOSED to be a fun, exciting, and INSPIRING activity for kids... that's what REALLY saddens me. Ya know, I could figure that's how it would be if it were just some "daycare center" or whatever, or even like when Astroworld (theme park) was still open and they did some super-cut-rate tickets for kids and stuff, which basically turned the whole park into one huge fenced-in babysitting arena that bedraggled parents and overcrowded daycares could haul their kids to on the cheap weekdays during the summer vacation season, which probably contributed to their going broke and shutting down and being torn down a couple years later... (nobody else wanted to PAY to be swamped by other people's kids during the summer "tourist season"). Thing is, it's NASA, but I guess that the moniker "Not About Space Anymore" is more accurate than one would wish... Opportunities there, but too cheap to make use of them... pretty much sums it up I'd say...

Later! OL JR :)

Anyway, got some pics to share... those will be coming soon...
Okay, here's some pics... first at JSC... got to see the SCA (shuttle carrier aircraft) that they've moved in to the front lawn of SCH (space center Houston visitor center). The shuttle orbiter mockup they got from KSC last year/year before last (when KSC got Discovery) has been moved to the far end of the parking lot and fenced off... they've cleaned off the racist graffiti some low-lifes painted on it awhile back (maybe a year?) and have cut off the landing gear, and modified it to add the mounting points for the ET, which the real shuttle orbiters used to mate to the SCA for flight... the mockup didn't have this as it was never anything more than a 100% scale model of a real shuttle, made after the fact. There was a banner up on the fence showing the completed project with the orbiter model atop the SCA, and a large "serpentine ramp" up to the "entry doors" in the side of the shuttle mockup to allow visitors to enter and exit... looks pretty cool when they finally get it all finished (Betty read online that they're supposed to mate the orbiter mockup to the SCA later this year, but then they'll have to construct the ramp up to it, which will be multiple stories tall... probably take a few months to do the reinforced concrete and steel construction by the looks of it... plus they STILL have to move some sort of engines in for the SCA, which sits bare-winged on the concrete apron they poured for it... (or for the shuttle mockup, since it USED to sit right where the SCA sits now).

Enjoy! OL JR :)
Okay, so we went to Hobby Lobby... Nothing rocket related in clearance I could find... guess the locals clean it out, being that close to NHRC... So I went looking for various materials and tools I might use...

I found this interesting... they have a (new to me) set of Testor's "One Coat Lacquers" in various colors... a bit pricey but hey, it's LACQUER, and it's TESTORS, which means it should be pretty darn good... SO, in case anyone's interested, they might take a look and a 40% off coupon and pick up a can at a time...

They also had paracord in tons of different colors, in a light duty thickness and a heavy duty thickness (# ratings). SO, if you're into sewing parachutes, or have other uses for the stuff, here ya go... again a 40% off coupon is your friend, but the stuff is pretty cheap anyways...

They also had some "bungee cord" which is braided like parachute cord, but with a stretchy rubber core to it... pretty cool stuff... could make some nice shock cords for medium-weight to heavy weight model rockets (a little too thick IMHO for small rockets). It was cheap enough...

Finally I went to tools, but there was nothing new there I hadn't seen before, and their rocket selection was pretty thin and overpriced, as were their motors... I got bored while Betty was shopping for scrapbooking stuff or something... I embarrassed her badly when we were in the cake decorating department and she was attempting to explain that edible sugar paper stuff to me and all the rollers and gizmos they use to apply it to cakes, and I got very serious, looked over at my nephew for his reaction, and excitedly asked her, "can you make edible panties out of that??" We BUSTED out laughing so hard we nearly fell over... I think we embarrassed some ladies at the other end of the aisle, and Betty turned red and said, "I don't know you" and walked off quickly, leaving us guffawing...

SO, I wandered around a bit, and found some classroom globes... apparently even GLOBES come in "metric" and "standard" nowdays... LOL:) (nephew got a laugh out of that one too, being a son of a mechanic).

He took off looking for something, and I got bored wandering around, so I got a mischievous streak in me today, and seeing all the toy dinosaurs piled up in the display racks, I set them all up so they were humping each other... When Betty and Jeremy found me and they asked what I was doing, I explained I was setting the dinosaurs up so they were all humping each other... Jeremy laughed and Betty said, "I can't take you anywhere... come on little boy!" LOL:)

Course, she stepped in it a few times, probably got me and Jeremy started with the joking-- when I was deeply engrossed in searching the science and astronomy sections of Half Price Books earlier in the day, she came over to me and said, "When you're done, come with me, and I'll show you the "BIG BANG" toys!!!" Jeremy instantly burst out laughing and I burst out laughing a second later when it dawned on me what she said... I instantly burst into a hip-rocking, string-twirling busty "Mae West" impersonation, saying in a sexy voice, "Yeah, when you're done, come with me, big boy, and I'll show you my BIG BANG TOYS!!!" "WEEEeeeeelllll... I just might have to do that, now! Hey baby!" and razzing her... she hid her face, turned red, and said, "I didn't mean it like that" and I told Jeremy "she sure stepped in front of that one, didn't she??" and we kept laughing, so she walked off... apparently they had some little "bendy figurines" from the cast of "Big Bang Theory"... I later made a joke about wanting a bendy Kaley Cuoco doll... which got her goat again... LOL:) Betty has a way of sticking her foot in her mouth without meaning to... not choosing her words properly before saying them... LOL:)

Anyway, enjoy!
Later! OL JR :)

PS... the paleontologists are right... it's really hard to figure out how to make the big four-legged, long necked sauropod dinosaurs mount each other!!! Isn't science fun?? LOL:)
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