I’ll give you the gallery now, Kit’s setting up the video today of the entire trip (with slideshow, video clips, etc.) Below are more details about our day at NASA. The kids keep coming up to me and saying, “That was so awesome, Mom. I can’t believe we did that.”
So we got up bright up and early and headed downstairs for breakfast where the kids made their own belgian waffles and drank way too much orange juice and ate frosted flakes. Chad met us at the hotel at 8am and we followed him over to a different location through security and inside an enormous building. Someone came out to meet us (I wish I remembered his name, I will find out!) and brought us into what looked like a huge hangar with a wall 20′ high – and a pool on the other side. (I asked how thick that wall was!) We walked up some stairs and suddenly there’s the pool, which is 40′ deep and there’s a space center inside it! (Not the whole thing, of course.) It was so much to take in and so surreal! There are divers in the pool and people around the edges and up in this control booth and I’m praying Livy doesn’t get any ideas about swim time. Though I have no doubt she would have been totally fine with this crew around, that would have really been awkward if they had to fish her out. 🙂
Across this massive pool I point out to Ben (wondering if he can see) there appears to be a small gathering of people around what looks like an astronaut. In full gear, about to go into the pool. Ben’s eyes get big and we start walking around the edge and the kids are quiet (for about 2 seconds) and they just stare. While we had told the kids we were going to see the worlds biggest indoor pool, I didn’t mention that pool had a space station inside of it OR that they may get to meet some astronauts. It was a good surprise!
I wasn’t sure how close they would be comfortable with our kids getting close to what has to be exceptionally important (and expensive) gear but they told the kids to hop on up to the platform and shake the astronauts hand and get a picture! You’ll only see five kids in the picture because our 7 year old took one look at that pool with the space ship inside of it and attached herself to the wall. It was only when I looked at the photos afterwards that I saw my five year old had latched onto the poor astronaut’s hand and was pulling on it. That guy is undoubtably strong and is wearing a 200 pound suit but having a five year old yanking on his arm when he’s relatively immobile was probably uncomfortable. (I’m sorry!) J being attached to someone’s hand is a theme to come throughout the day.
As they finished prepping to get this guy into the pool Mo and Livy noticed the divers in the pool – and there were boys AND girls. There were girls, and one near us smiled at Livy and that was a very big deal to our three year old who is going through this whole discovery about girls and boys. (It made me happy, too, since I knew she was going to identify with a girl in the pool since she’s such a fish herself.)
One of the guys with us comes over with this cool looking tool – it’s an underwater drill and he’s explaining it to the kids and I’m saying, “DON’T TOUCH!” and he says, Oh – they can touch! He lets them take turns pressing the buttons and talking with them about how the astronauts work underwater, how the divers help them, the umbilical lines with oxygen and power going out to them, how HARD is it to work underwater for these practice EVA. Then we watch the astronauts go in and they are waving as they dunk and we can see them on the television screens. Afterwards they took us upstairs where we could see over the pool (WOW, wow!!!!) and showed us some other projects going on in the pool. Then off to a lab (I need Kit to fill in the blanks on most of this, I was carrying E at this point because after seeing the deep pool and walking up a bunch of stairs to the balcony over the pool she was a basket case and freaking out about the height and depth. Safe to say we won’t be sending her to space.)
We were taken down into a lab with a space suit standing there and tables covered in all this space suit stuff and people working and I’m whispering into J’s ear that he better not touch ANYTHING and then one of our guys says, “You’re going to help me take this suit apart!” You could see the kids’ eyes just light up!! He talked them through the multiple steps needed to safely disassemble and reassemble the space suit so you don’t accidentally lose a glove in space. It was tricky, and when Mo did it I was so proud! (That girl was in occupational therapy for motor skills for years so really, her helping take apart a space suit was a BIG deal! You can see how proud she was in the photo of her holding the glove – which weigh 8 lbs each.)
Then they took turns trying on the VERY heavy helmet and playing with the sunshield, and then another guy shows up (I feel bad I didn’t get all their names!!) He took us into another lab with what looked like Ben’s incubator from when he was a baby. 🙂 The gloves latched into the side and they pressurized is? De-pressurized it? (Isn’t it awful I don’t know what exactly was happening) but it changed the pressure so the gloves feel like you’re in space and you have to practice using them. I didn’t try it but Kit and the kids did and said it is HARD, you feel yourself working muscles you normally don’t notice. It was really fun seeing Ben practicing using gloves that weighed 8 x what he did when he was a baby in a machine that looked like his NICU bed. How far we’ve come!
It had been a couple hours at this point and we headed back out where the sweet people at the front desk had stickers, patches, and toy astronauts for the kids. Livy saw hers and said, “Thank you for my space girl!” and has been literally sleeping with it ever since.
I’ll insert another post later but in the break time we ran up to the Houston Children’s Museum and had lunch then came back down to meet up for Epic NASA Tour Part II. This time we needed someone to ride in the car to get us through the security so Chad had brought a friend (whom our five year old decided was named One though I believe it was actually spelled Juan – I’ll have to verify that. One would be a pretty cool name.) 🙂
Oh, but insert – J had just broken my car window. Yep, my window wouldn’t go back up. Thankfully it was safe to leave window down where we were going but I was picturing how in the world we could get to an auto shop to get the car window fixed OR driving home at 70 MPH with a window down at night as the temperature dropped. Lousy timing.
Regardless, we headed off on our tour with two great guides. J has decided “One” is his new best friend (I think he was holding hands with the astronaut or Chad the entire morning) and let me say how patient and kind and engaging and long-suffering these guys were with my enthusiastic and incredibly excited and non-stop chattering five year old. Really – they were so, so helpful and I don’t know how we could have done it without them (and not just because they coordinated this whole amazing day, but because they were taking care of the five year old bouncing off the walls with awe at everything.)
First stop was the break room? I think that’s what they said! Spinning egg chairs (they were comfy!) and a whole wall of big screens connected to computers with Google Earth. But like no Google Earth you have ever seen. Like you can see the curve of the earth as you’re zooming in and out. First Ben wanted to see our home and look – there’s our town, and neighborhood, street, house, and there’s the kids’ slide in the backyard and the red wagon and the toys they didn’t pick up! WOW!!!!
They also checked out Orlando, Galveston, Paris, and Chad helped us go see the Pyramids and Sphinx. I could have stayed there for hours exploring, it was surreal. Seeing Ben seeing the world, and getting right up close to the screens looking at the details? I cried, it made me so happy. When it was first installed there was apparently quite a line to get a turn with it! THAT alone would have been engaging for hours, but this tour just kept getting more awesome. Seriously – we started out with an astronaut in a space suit going into an underwater space station. How do you top that? But these people DID! This was the tour that just kept going, “You think that’s cool? Watch THIS!” ALL day long!!
Okay, so from there we went to another building but there was a tour in the place we were going (I wasn’t exactly sure where that was.) We couldn’t go in, but Chad went through this other intimidating looking door that seemed to serious about security and then came back out explaining there was a tour in the observation booth so we couldn’t go up there and we were going in here instead but we would need to be quiet. And we walk inside, and we’re in mission control.
I KNOW!!!!!! I got goosebumps. (I still get goosebumps thinking about it.)
The kids were (at least for a little bit) shocked into silence. (It didn’t last.) They had us stand up front so we could get a picture under all the screens and I cried again, looking out over this amazing place and seeing the awe in the kids’ faces. A few rows back we were waved over and it was the flight director! She invited Ben to sit next to her (he doesn’t look excited in the picture where he’s doing the thumbs up, I think he was still processing everything around him and I had warned them they better be quiet and not touch ANYTHING! I probably was a little emphatic and scared him. 🙂 ) She handed him a phone and said don’t touch this button, but you can hear the astronauts if you listen. Then at this point the 3 year old decided she wanted to explore and I didn’t want her to interrupt anyone actually working on all this really important stuff so I took her over to the entry area and we checked out all the cool posters on the walls. During that time apparently mission control called up to the space station and had them turn on the video and they were doing tricks and waving to the kids! (I did step around the corner and see that, and Kit’s got it on the video which you must see because it’s so neat and you can hear the conversation and laughter.)
C was near me and he’s chatting with one of the guys about the Mars mission and the risks and if C would want to go to Mars. I’m sitting there listening to my 12 year old talk about space exploration (something we’ve all talked about and studied at home) but he’s having this conversation in MISSION CONTROL inside NASA with one of these brilliant guys training the astronauts. And I’m looking at my child thinking, “You have no idea how utterly amazing this is and I hope you remember this conversation and this moment and this experience for the rest of your entire life!”
I can’t stop smiling whenever I think about it. C in particular I think realizes how extraordinary this was – he keeps saying, “Mom, seriously – thank you. That was so cool.” Ben keeps walking up and giving me bear hugs and saying, “THANK YOU!!”
THEN, you thought we couldn’t top that, right? Ha! We went over to the old mission control, and here the kids could sit in the seats and saw a piece from the Apollo 13 mission and learned about the pneumatic tubes and sending chocolate cake through them and how it was the pre-email communication and they got pictures in the flight director’s seat. I told them it looked just like the Apollo 13 room and Chad says, “Oh, this IS that room.” (Apparently that movie is one of the more accurate space films, which was neat to know.) At this point there was some VIP tour coming through also, and I only later realized there was a group in the observation room (taking pictures of us taking pictures!) and I bet they really wondered who these wandering munchkins were. 🙂 Our kids were picking which jobs they would have for their mission and I was picturing the six of them in charge of any mission and laughing my head off.
Back downstairs the kids found more buttons to press in the cockpit while we coordinated the next amazing surprise. Luke joined us and he had on a Gryffindor lanyard with NASA pins which meant he gained immediate super cool status. Then we’re off into another building up more stairs and we meet another group of people (and I give the kids the DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING reminder) and we walk into a lab and there’s a robot. Like crazy sci-fi out of a movie robot. I missed this part so I’ll have Kit fill in the details, because Livy took one look at that huge human-like robot and screamed, “I DON’T LIKE ROBOTS, I WANT TO GO TO EMILY’S HOUSE!” and ran. We were not in any location where I could step outside (security!) so I stood in their little break area while texting messages from Livy to her Aunt Emily to try and keep her calm while my three year old apparently freaked out about being near a robot. We tried going back out a couple times so I saw that they were letting my kids shake the hand of what had to be a multi-million dollar robot, but then Livy would see it and shriek and we would go hide again. Kit’s got video of this, too, and I could tell the kids were enthralled by the laughter I could hear.
I had no clue my children were scared of deep pools and robots – good to know.
After that we walked to another building and into a HUGE room (which I think can be seen during the public tours from the catwalk around it?) and there was the space station. Little ones can’t go in there so I sat at a table with the younger two (and pulled out the iPad to keep them busy) while Kit took the big ones to explore and I had a lovely talk with one of our guides (Luke, full of fun NASA facts which I later shared with the kids and impressed Kit with) while Kit went through with the other guide and kids. Then Luke pauses our conversation for a second to bring someone over to introduce to us and it’s DOTTIE. DOTTIE THE ASTRONAUT! I don’t think my five and three year olds were that impressed at first but I was!! She shook all of our hands and I explained who she was and Livy immediately wanted to know if she had a pink space suit – Dottie said no, she did get an orange flight suit and a white space suit though. Then J was fascinated – an ORANGE suit?? Suddenly he was more interested in space if he could have an orange suit, too, until now his plan was to stay at mission control because he wanted that flight director seat. They also chatted about candy in space and jelly beans, then Dottie went to go find our other kids. (Need to make sure Kit includes that story, too.)
By this point we had explored for almost six hours between our morning and afternoon tours and it was almost dinner time. (We also needed to get our window fixed on the car!) They walked us back out and gave us tips for the best place to find a NASA hat for Ben and THEN they gave us a bag with some souvenirs – a special calendar, posters, stickers, a PIN and a patch that had FLOWN IN SPACE. (Pin is now affixed to Ben’s new hat, patches soon will be.)
We headed down the street and found the souvenir shop and next to it was an auto-shop that looked very busy and we pulled up and said, “Hey, so – can you fix our window like right now?” And they DID! They stopped fixing the other cars and walked over and checked it out (the owner and another guy) and they fixed our broken window!! (It was electric and stuck down, something shorted out.) They didn’t even charge us but we insisted and the guy said a $20 tip was sufficient. HOORAY!
Then we went into the souvenir shop because I wanted a hat for Ben – his low vision specialist said keep him in shades and hats to protect his eyes and I thought what is cooler than a NASA hat, really? He asked for the red one and the owner of the shop rang it up with some other little things and the total was less than the price of the hat, so I asked and she said, “It looked dusty so I gave it to you for half price.” WOW! I smiled and said, “So could I maybe grab that other red one for his big brother?” and she said sure – and she gave me BOTH hats for $10. Seriously… the boys both were so excited and grateful.
Back into the car where we stopped for dinner and started heading north and then… then we got into the accident. (Boo.) You can read about that below.
So thoughts in summary… I was telling a friend about the day and said, “Even knowing we were going to get into the car wreck and things were going to get crazy with these surprise expenses and stressors, I would do that again in a heartbeat.” It was absolutely without a doubt one of the most amazing days of our family’s life. I only wish we could go back and press PAUSE so that the kids would hold still and I could sit there for a few minutes soaking in how breathtaking it all was. Seeing these things was so, so cool – but I think even more incredible were the people we talked with, the stories we were hearing, the things we learned going on behind the scenes, how incredibly kind every single person was and how much effort they put into making this day special. I keep thinking – I can’t believe we really did that!!!! And probably every person we’ve seen since has heard ALL about it from the kids, too.
In case anyone from NASA reads this – you are wonderful. (And Chad – wow, you rock! And Ron – you made this possible. You made a kid’s dream come true.) Ben’s wish was to visit NASA, he was just hoping to see a space suit in the public tour area knowing full well it would be behind glass and not something he could touch or examine closely. And instead you gave him an experience beyond his wildest dreams in so many ways. None of us could have imagined how incredible our visit would be. THANK YOU, a million times thank you. You have given him memories that will stay with him forever.