Wilder by Far

A look at life with the Wilder family. Updated most weekends and some vacation days. You can contact me at movingnorth@gmail.com..

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

"Failure Entertainment is not an option." Gene Kranz, Apollo 13

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The Mighty Saturn V. It’s almost as long as a lecture in economics presented by Al Gore when you know you get free, cold beer after he’s done yakking about carbon offset credits.

The Wilder family again returned to the Johnson Space Center this weekend. It came as a surprise to me.

The Mrs.: “Let’s go to Johnson Space Center.”

Me, sitting on couch, still groggy from just getting up: “Hmm. That’s a surprise.”


The reason it came as a surprise is that last year The Mrs. absolutely hated the trip. For her to suggest it? Incomprehensible.

I hate taking the blog into sequel territory. Heck, I might be played by Owen Wilson and The Mrs. by Jessica Simpson, and the plot would revolve around our attempt to repel invading aliens who want to make Earth into a giant Pez™ factory. But, since we went back, what the heck.

Last year, when I paid, I bought a year-long membership. The membership cards have an exciting picture on one side of rockets slipping the surly bonds of Earth, and a space-suited astronaut with both hands up in the air, as if he’s proclaiming that Neil Armstrong did manage to break the plane of the end-zone at Tranquility-Cola® stadium, and that he’d scored a moon-touchdown. I’ll be darned if the membership cards don’t imply that membership at Space Center Houston is fun.

Did I mention they spelled our names wrong? Wailder? Sheesh.

Since it had been a year, I checked the expiration date on the card, and found that they expired tomorrow, so, technically it had been only 364 days. They were yet valid.

Anyhow, we loaded up our car in typical speedy Wilder fashion (which is to mean that we left somewhere after lunch) and set off for Johnson Space Center.

Along the way, The Mrs. kept pointing out places where they have food. See, that’s The Mrs.’ problem: she’s subtle, and expects me to pick up on her tricky clues, things like screaming, “I’m hungry, you worthless piece of monkey snot!” We ate.

Finally arriving at the Space Center, we flashed our soon-to-expire identification cards at the guards, and they waived us in without paying the $5.00 parking fee. Finally, being treated like VIPs!

We walked through the turnstiles in a likewise imperious manner. That’s when I noticed that, not only were we visiting almost exactly a year apart, but also I was wearing the same shirt. A quick sniff of the armpit region indicated I’d at least washed at least once since.

Last time we hadn’t let The Boy and the (then) stroller-bound Pugsley go into the great big play area. We were saving that for the end, but by the time we got to that point all we wanted to do was leave. This time we hit it first. Taking their shoes off (for some reason, smelly socks are considered more hygienic than soles of shoes) they entered the maze of tubes with a vague space-theme. Upon exiting, I tried to get Pugsley to put on shoes that belonged to some other child. The shoes I picked were at least the next size larger so they would have lasted for, oh, maybe four more years, but that gained me no points with The Mrs. For some reason she wanted Pugsley to get his own shoes back.

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Kid shoes. They all look alike. Don't they? Help me out here.

We then managed to play several simulations of docking the Space Shuttle into the International Space Station. Note: there is a reason that seven-year-old boys aren’t astronauts: they giggle when they destroy $100 billion worth of orbiting space hotel.

We finally made it to the big tour – the whole reason I’d wanted to go to the Space Center: The Tour.

The Tour took us to Mission Control, past the NASA space-deer, past the tanks of liquid nitrogen that the Apollo scientists had convinced the government that they need in the ‘60’s, scale mock-ups of anything that has ever flown, and finally to see the real-deal, the Saturn V.

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Space deer.

About the liquid nitrogen – I imagine that the scientists had put it down in the budget: “Item: Liquid Nitrogen, Quantity, 50,000 gallons, Purpose: Testing of Materials for Space Conditions.” In reality, I bet they just spent their lunch hours dunking bananas and flowers in the liquid nitrogen and then shattering them with government-requisitioned hammers.

It’s what I would have done. Never give nerds too much money to play with.

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The Unabomber, looking into the massive engines of the Saturn V.

Anyway, after about eighty minutes on a little tram, we finally got to go see the Saturn V, encased in a huge garage. This Saturn V had originally been meant to fly as Apollo 18, but without Tom Hanks. It was magnificent, and awe-inspiring, seeing what those 1960’s geeks did when they weren’t seeing what freezing their TV in liquid nitrogen did for their reception.

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Hmmm, is leakage an option?

The Tour, however, was long, and dreadfully dull. It’s fun the way that government would set it up if there was a Fun Advisement Agency. Finally, we escaped the tour.

We decided to hit the gift shop, and I advised The Boy to not buy a bright pink NASA pen or a NASA shot glass, but rather save his $4.32 until he had enough to buy that compass he wanted from the Boy Scout shop. We went home.
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Word has it that some astronauts are familiar with these . . .

I’ve been to several Space museums: the Smithsonian, the Alamogordo space museum, and the Kansas Cosmosphere all are vastly superior to Space Center Houston.

Oh, Space Center, I tried to love you, but you’ve managed to make the heroic struggle for mankind to lift itself up into the cosmos boring and tedious.


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