Famed NASA mission control: restored and reopened

Famed NASA mission control: restored and reopened
Overall view of the Mission Operations Control Room in the Mission Control Center at the Manned Spacecraft Center showing the flight controllers celebrating the successful conclusion of the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission on Jul 24, 1969. Credits: NASA
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Houston, we have…guests?

Just a few weeks ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing on July 20th, 1969, NASA’s Johnson Space Center Mission Control reopened after an extensive, three-year, $5 million restoration. Now the more than a million visitors who visit Space Center Houston will have the opportunity to take a guided tour around the famous mission control that was integral in the moon landing.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Apollo Flight Director Gene Kranz participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony to reopen the restored Apollo Mission Control Center. Credits: NASA/Robert Markowitz


The NASA control room was used in a number of space endeavours including Gemini, Apollo, Apollo/Soyuz, Sky Lab, and Space Shuttle programme. It was where engineers and flight controllers watched in horror as Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger B. Chaffee perished when a fire broke out during the Apollo I launchpad simulation in 1967. Two years later, it was where they celebrated the success of the Apollo 11 mission. However, since 1992, the mission control room was more or less abandoned as newer technologies overtook the outdated systems. Those who worked in the building, which is still operational, could come in and take a look around, occasionally, Gene Kranz, who retired in 1990, would give VIP tours of the room, and over the years, keyboard keys began to disappear as employees took home souvenirs from the room to have their own bit of history.

The Apollo Mission Control Room in January 2018 before the restoration project began. Credits: NASA / Norah Moran


There were attempts in the past to begin restoring the room, which was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1985 by the National Park Service, but given the sensitive nature of work going on elsewhere in the building and funding, nothing extensive ever came to fruition. The looming 50th anniversary of the moon landing, though, put on the needed pressure to make sure the room, which was in slight disrepair, was returned to it’s 1960s glory. In 2017, the restoration was finally able to begin after about five years of planning and fundraising, which was headed by Space Center Houston, an educational non-profit complex and space museum. They raised $1.5 million from a Kickstarter campaign and private donations while Webster, a city nearby Houston, donated $3.5 million to the cause.

Apollo Mission Control consoles returning to Johnson Space Center in June 2019 after being restored at the Cosmosphere. Credits: NASA / Robert Markowitz


The restoration process was aided by representatives of the Apollo Mission Control teams that played a role in getting astronauts safely to and from their missions. A scavenger hunt of sorts was conducted throughout the building in search of items that authenticated the room, while other items were sourced from eBay. In the end, the room now feels like you’ve stumbled into mission control at a moment when all the engineers happened to step out of the room. Computer monitors flash graphs and data, RC cola cans, coffee cups, cigarettes, and ashtrays dot the desks around the room. Three-inch thick mission control manuals, pneumonic tubes, and other items critical to the success of missions are scattered around and you can’t miss the small American flags bundled up just like the ones waving in the famous photo after Apollo 11 was completed.

Essentially, it’s like a step back in time, to one of the most exciting moments in American and world history. It’s restoration not only honours all those who worked to accomplish the feat but also stands to inspire generations to come.