Ed here to share the story of Dane's overnight Cub Scout campout at NASA's Johnson Space Center Museum in Houston, Texas. On Saturday, September 18th, 2010, Dane and I climbed aboard a bus chartered by our proud Pflugerville Pack 711 to ride from Austin to Houston with 52 other Cub Scouts, leaders, and parents. We rallied the guys together long enough to snap a picture or two (below) before they raced off to get the best seat on the bus.
Four hours later, we arrived in Houston. It was just a little bit after 5:00 in the afternoon, and most museum-goers were making their final rounds. We, on the other hand, were just gearing up for a night of space fun!
First thing in the door, and Dane headed right for the .... Legos?!
Yes, Lego had set up an exhibit in the center of the Johnson Space Center museum, and Dane couldn't have been more excited. Here he is in front of the electronic catapult, about to throw a virtual boulder at his virtual Lego castle which he protected with a virtual Lego fortress wall. He had as much fun launching rocks as he did flying through space the rest of the night.
Soon enough, though, I managed to tear him away for a tour of the main gallery. Dane was very impressed by the space shuttle rocket engine (foreground), especially when he learned the space shuttle used 3 of them PLUS 2 giant rockets on the solid-fuel boosters. After ooh'ing and aah'ing over the engine, we climbed the stairs to see the inside of a space shuttle. You can just see the shuttle nose above the stairs on the right edge of the picture.
Inside the shuttle, I found a novelty that Dane probably had never seen before. "What's that look like, Dane?"
"Uh, I dunno, looks sorta like a bathtub?"
"Hmm, no, not quite. It looks more like a seat, doesn't it? Does it look like anything you have at home?"
"Uh, ... OH MY GOSH! Is that a TOILET in SPACE?!!! Ewww!"
Shortly after that interesting discovery, Dane and I headed over to join the schedule activities. We did several crafts and interactive events that night. The first fun thing was building a simple star-finder to learn more about the night sky and the position of the constellations.
A little bit later we visited the planetarium to see the constellations that we'd just learned about. After our star-gazing was finished, we began assembling a necklace that represented the planets in our solar system. Here's the gang all circled around Mrs. Robin and Mr. Caesar (red shirts) as all the guys string beads.
Each large bead on the necklace represented a planet. Can you remember their order? "Men Very Early Made Jugs Stand Up Nearly Plumb." Or, for the more modern crowd who only acknowledge 8 planets, "My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Noodles." Each spacer between the first 4 planets on Dane's necklace represented 30 million miles. Each spacer between the remaining planets represented 60 million miles. Dane's jaw dropped a little when we learned that it takes Neptune 86 "Earth-years" to go around the sun one time because it is so far out in space.
(Did you remember the planets? Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. Gotta count Pluto if you're over the age of 30! Our guide declared that Pluto is actually still a planet, just a "non-standard" planet.)
Moving on to the Rocket Launch, Dane paused for a moment of silliness and put on the astronaut helmet. He didn't stop long enough for me to take a second picture after I realized the flash had reflected. Too much fun to stand around! "We gotta go, gotta go, Dad! We're gonna miss it!"
The last event of the evening was making paper rockets and launching them with compressed air. Dane told me afterwards, "Why'd they have to save the most fun thing until the last! I wanted to do that all night long." Here Dane crouches next to Joel Ardnt from his Wolf Den as they watch Mr. Caesar send their rockets aloft.
At 11:00p we finished all the fun and started getting ready for bed -- in the Johnson Space Center museum! Yes, sir, we slept right there in "StarGazer Gallery" among the exhibits. Here's our gaggle of guys carrying all their equipment into the exhibit hall. We were 54 Scouts out of a larger group of about 300 that spent the night.
Then we changed into jammies, brushed up, washed faces, and trotted back to the exhibit hall for bed. Just like being at a giant space slumber party. Dane was pretty wiped out at that point. Even so, I made him take a picture in front of the NASA sign so he could prove he wore his space jammies in space!
After main lights went out, we looked up to see the rocket hanging overhead, the simulated sun and moon, and thousands of twinkling stars.
The next morning we put on our "I camped in space" T-shirts. Dane was still groggy for a while that morning.
That morning (Sunday, 19 Oct 2010), we took a tourist tram with our Pack over to NASA's full-size mockup laboratory where they test and build equipment, especially for the International Space Station. Dane was looking through the window at the giant space arm that the astronauts use to train (not in the picture, unfortunately). Just to Dane's left is the workspace where NASA engineers were assembling moon rovers for the (just cancelled) Constellation mission to land on the moon (or was it Mars?). Dane still cackles as he repeats the tour guides comment that the moon rovers are controlled in part by XBox 360 controllers. "See, Dad, playing video games is good."
As the tour closed out, we took a couple of snap shots in front of the massive Saturn V rocket from the Apollo mission days.
We only had a little bit of time after our tram tour to visit all the exhibits in the main museum hall before our bus headed back to Austin. Dane stopped at the Kids' Mission Control Center to try on the headphones and see if he could launch a rocket successfully.
But, in the end, the very last thing he did, of course, is play with Legos. Sigh. That boy really, really, really loves Legos! He even made Lego glasses. He'll probably grow up to be a Lego engineer someday.
We climbed back aboard our tour bus and drove another 4 sleepy hours back to Austin. It was a very exciting weekend, and I will remember it for many years. I hope Dane does as well.