My friend Todd Hellner and his family keep in touch often, they love KSBJ. Todd works at NASA and has invited DK and me to come down and check things out, but we were never able to connect. I thought the tour would be perfect for while Michael and Emily were in town from Pittsburgh, but when I emailed Todd asking if this would be a possibility, I had NO IDEA what he had in store for us.
While the shock was still wearing off after seeing M&E at breakfast in Houston, I told DK that we had a special mission for the day and handed him a packet marked "Confidential." Inside it he found a personal letter from Johnson Space Center, alerting him he'd been chosen for an important mission. There were also details on JSC and info on Terry Virts, a NASA astronaut. (I put this together, it wasn't realllly from NASA.)
We met Todd Hellner outside a Mexican restaurant on the outskirts of the NASA campus and not too much later, Terry Virts, a real life ASTRONAUT showed up to dine with us. I'm still freaking out. He's prepping for a mission to the ISS slated for 2/2010 and I found out he listens to KSBJ. To sit at lunch and pick the brain of an astronaut, now THAT was a cool experience.
After lunch, Todd drove us through security at the main gate and gave us each badges. I was afraid to blink for fear this wasn't really happening and I'm beyond grateful to Todd for taking this day to show us the royal treatment. Our badges got us into the hangar where the entire ISS mock-up is set up. There it was, as it is set up in space.
This is where astronauts train for the real thing.
We walked around in awe. And it was a bit sobering to look up at the glass enclosed walkway where tourists looked down at us on our VIP tour. I'm so grateful...
It wasn't too much later that Rex Walheim walked in after flying around in a F-16 to share more details of what space is like, what his missions accomplished during his two flights to space, and then took us all inside the mock-up of the shuttle, where they prep for take-off. He is so animated and to hear these stories seemed so surreal. He is very passionate about what God has so obviously called him to do.
We learned the inside scoop on how they sleep, eat, deal with clausterphobia, how they go to the bathroom, etc. After rounds of photos in the captain seat, Rex and Todd took us over to the entrance of the ISS mock-up. We got to walk through it. The entire thing. We walked through and saw all the additions, what they're for, and we learned what has been done in past missions, etc. Then we stood in the addition added from Rex's last mission and got to congratulate him on this out of this world endeavor.
We said goodbye and God Bless to Rex. Next Todd took us over to Mission Control. He walked us right through the steel security doors and up the elevator. Just like that. We took plenty of photos in the original Mission Control, which was shut down and preserved after Apollo. Again, we're standing on the floor of this historical landmark looking up and through the glass at the tourists. Are you kidding me?
Next Todd took us through to sit and watch the current shuttle program's Mission Control. It was nice to sit and comprehend the intelligence and dilligence in each of those working at every desk in front of each screen. Todd was careful as the 4 of us were nearing information overload but was so informative, answering question after question. And then it was time to go. The astronauts were asleep in space anyway.
We walked to the car and made it back through the security gates. Smooth like buttah. Had to turn in our badges which was a bummer, but no problem cause we knew in our hearts we were true friends of NASA now. Todd had some gifts for us, we said our goodbyes and drove out the gate.
The 4 of us were kinda quiet for a few moments and then suddenly like a flash flood breaking through a gate, we gushed "OH MY GOSH!! HOLY COW!! ARE YOU KIDDING ME? WHOA!! WOW!! I SAW AN ASTRONAUT OH MY GOSH!! and it went on for a little while longer... hahaha.
Thanks Todd, Terry and Rex for the most memorable experience EVER!!