Holidays and Other Excursions

Tag: Texas

USA – Deep South – 12

Houston Mission Control

Houston Mission Control

Thursday 9.11.23

And a day for the boys – Space Center, Houston.  We have a bit of a trek out of town this morning on the coach and the roads and usage demonstrate my earlier comments.

The Space Center Houston is huge and now far more than just the Mission Control  although that is our first destination as we have been given a timed trip shortly after our arrival on the site.  The main displays and visitor area are a ride away from all the cool stuff as the area occupied has grown over the years.

Mission Control has been returned to the layout and equipment with which we are familiar from the Apollo missions in the late 60s / early 70s.  The touring party sits in the viewing area overseeing the control room and we are played three recordings of those key events.  Apollo 7 landing on the moon followed by the recording of Neil Armstrong walking onto the surface.  The third recording is of the first report of Apollo 13 having a problem plus the surrounding story of bringing the participants back safely.  Obviously now the visible technology looks hugely dated and one wonders how it would be organised today.

There were rudimentary computers on board the space vehicles and mainframes processing data – but these days when we are conscious of how Formula 1 (for example) has intricate reporting detail on their engines, chassis, wheels and so on all being fed not only to the pit teams but also to their headquarters (which can be half a world away from the race) it is a very different data process that would now be put in place.

As well as the displays in the visitor center itself there are two other major exhibits which also require a ride to the other side of facility – one is a Saturn V rocket launcher – which lies on one side rather than standing erect.  The other is a visit to the astronaut training center which is a huge hangar with a huge variety of technical equipment where the potential travellers have to learn how to manage all of the equipment.

Shuttle Carrier and Shuttle

Shuttle Carrier and Shuttle

As with Graceland earlier on the holiday those with a particular interest could and probably should spend the whole day here – for the ladies of the tour this held the least interest.

USA – Deep South – 11

Union Station departure Board

Union Station departure Board

Wednesday 8.11.23

We are on the move again and our first stop this morning is Union Station where – given the usual generous Great Rail timings – we have a wait for our train to Houston.  As before all cases are handed over to porters and loaded aboard the train and we follow separately to our assigned seats.

Union Station probably handles less passengers (and many less services) than Sandhurst station on an average day.  So in European eyes it is unaccountably well appointed with a large number of seats, catering facilities and so on.  The other travellers are also here in plenty of time – walk up and go is not the way they do it here!  The train is scheduled to depart at 09:00 and we leave more or less on time.

Sunset Limited

Sunset Limited

We leave New Orleans by what seems a slightly twisting route eventually leaving the City over the Huey P Long Bridge with the train then coming to a stand on the raised section on the south side of the Mississippi river – and we are there some considerable time, although later in the day we appear to be back on expected timings.  Freight is always more important than passengers in this country of course.

I turn to listening to radio recordings – time to catch up on events in Ambridge amongst other things.  To break the day up we book lunch on the late sitting (yes there are two!).  The countryside rolls by – generically we are heading just about due west to Houston, Texas on the Sunset Limited which will (eventually) terminate in Los Angeles some 48 hours after the journey commences.  Our route passes through Lafayette, Lake Charles and Beaumont amongst others.

Historically this was not a rich area and from a passing train it is hard to establish any definitive conclusions – but it does not reek of prosperity – there are some nicer houses and there are some which are far less attractive – with I suspect a predominance of the latter!

Lunch is excellent and we stay talking at the table as they have cleared up and do not seem bothered about making us go.

Once on the outskirts of Houston we are routed through a freight route and we end up passing the station and backing into it – but that will be to enable it to head off on the remainder of its journey to the West Coast.  We arrive a little later than planned due to the Houston circumlocution – which means that eating out tonight is not on.

A quick coach hop to our hotel and with communications re-established (no wifi on trains) we can check in for our not too distant return flight.  Dinner is in the hotel tonight  and is perhaps one of the lesser meals of the trip.  The warm weather has gone and it is raining.  Houston is a modern city – at least in the centre.  It is, as might be expected, heavily dependent on the car – but outside our hotel there is a modern metro shuttling back and forth.  Time (and a wish not to be stuck somewhere distant) will preclude travel on it on Friday morning.