The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is reopening its iconic Apollo Mission Control Center in the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. The event is in tune with the 50th anniversary when Neil Armstrong first stepped on the moon and made one giant leap for humanity.
On Friday, NASA cut a ribbon to mark the official reopening of the control center, popularly known as ‘Houston,’ which is a three-year $5 million project that oversaw the repairs and refurbishing of the facility that once was the center of America’s lunar operations and is considered as a National Historic Landmark since 1985 by the National Park Service.
The event was led by Jim Bridenstine, NASA’s administrator, and Gene Kranz, the retired flight director who oversaw the technical operations on man’s first landing on the moon 50 years ago.
Although NASA’s Apollo mission control center had stopped operations in 1992, it remained open for anyone who wishes to visit and tour the facility while all other operations moved to a modernized mission control center elsewhere in the building.
However, as NASA sped into the future of space exploration, the iconic control center was left to deteriorate, causing an overhaul to restore it to its glorious old days.
“You knew it wasn’t right — you just knew,” said Sandra Tetley, the historic preservation officer at the Johnson Space Center to the New York Times. “But it was not a priority. We are an organization that’s moving toward the future, so there is not a budget to do things like this.”
Through efforts of Space Center Houston, a nonprofit educational complex and space museum, and the nearby city of Webster, Tex., they were able to garner a $3.5 million donation to complete the $5 million needed for the restoration.
The reopening of the Apollo Mission Control Center is now truly a historic room that resembles the Oval Office in terms of US cultural impact.
Not only is the control center refurbished to look clean, crisp, and, new, it also restored to resemble the appearance of the facility the same way it did in 1969. There’s even functioning electronics, familiar furniture, and other attention to detail.
Time described the room to have similar tiny objects such as “photographs from the Apollo era. Ashtrays and coffee cups, staplers and stopwatches, pens and pencils, headsets and rotary dial phones. There are mission control manuals three inches thick and canisters for pneumatic tubes. Binders and eyeglasses and cigar boxes sit next to cans of RC Cola and packs of Winston cigarettes.”
NASA committed to authenticity in making the room look exactly alike and not somewhat alike. For the past two years, historians and engineers from the Kansas Cosmosphere’s Spaceworks team have been restoring and detailing the historic sage green Ford-Philco consoles that populated the control room.
“Each console has been rebuilt to resemble its Apollo 15 configuration, down to, in many cases, even having period-correct labels on individual panels and buttons,” Ars Technica described when they visited the control center. “Rather than reconnecting the buttons’ built-in lighting, technicians had painstakingly wired new LEDs inside each individual button so that their lighting could be managed by a central Crestron automation controller.”
The details even boil down to replicate the same carpeting and wallpaper used during the 1969 era by tracking down old suppliers and manufacturers. The NASA restoration team also tracked down some of the items off eBay.
“The overall effect is of a functional MOCR frozen in amber—as if the room’s complement of flight controllers had all merely slipped off their headsets and stepped out to the hallway for just a moment.”
Now, as NASA gears to return to the moon in 2024 along with its first woman and next man to step on the moon in its Artemis mission, the Apollo Mission Space Center will become a piece of history as the United States will then again set new records and milestones in space exploration.
“It was dazzling,” Kranz said. “You couldn’t believe this. All of a sudden you were 50 years younger and you wanted to work in there. I wanted back in that room to work.”
For the meantime, the public can relish the historic room when guided tours begin on July 1.