By Joe Southern
Imagine what the Alamo might look like today if people 180 years ago had the foresight to preserve the walls and structures of the hallowed compound.
That’s similar to what Space Center Houston is facing today with the historic mission control center where ground crews guided the Apollo missions to and from the moon. The rooms and equipment are deteriorating and officials hope to have them refurbished and restored in time to mark the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing in two years.
Space Center Houston is reaching out to the public for help preserving the 52-year-old facility. The center launched a Kickstarter campaign on July 20 – the 48th anniversary of the first moon landing – to help restore NASA’s historic mission control center. The campaign is part of the Webster Challenge to raise $250,000 in public donations to restore the consoles and rooms where controllers directed the missions that went to the moon and back.
The nonprofit space center has a $5 million goal to fund the restoration project.
“The capital campaign to restore the historic mission control center got off to a great start with the Webster Challenge,” said Tracy L. Lamm, the chief operating officer for the space center. “And we also have raised previous funds from Webster for $3.1 million and we’re trying to raise an extra $250,000 to allow us to max that with a total of $500,000, so we’re already making some good progress on that. I don’t know the latest estimate, but I think we started off very well.”
The month-long capital campaign, named The Webster Challenge: Restore Historic Mission Control, will match gifts, dollar-for-dollar up to a maximum of $400,000.
Historic Mission Control consists of five distinct, interrelated areas on the third floor of Building 30 at Johnson Space Center. Mission Operations Control Room (MOCR2) includes the consoles used by flight controllers and large group display screens. Behind the screens is the summary display projection room, known as the “bat cave.” Adjacent to MOCR2 are two support rooms: the Simulation Control Room (Sim Room) and the Recovery Control Room, which served to coordinate support following splashdown.
A wall with large windows separates MOCR2 from the Visitors Viewing Area, a dedicated space where family members and VIP guests were able to observe mission controllers without disrupting them.
The restoration project will focus on all five areas of Historic Mission Control, with the goal of accurately portraying how the area looked the moment the moon landing took place on July 20, 1969. Even more specifically, that look will portray the exact moment that the team of controllers, after achieving the milestone, put out their celebratory cigars and headed home for a much-needed night’s sleep.
“We’re going through preliminary studies to make sure we have everything cataloged right and then the restoration will start very soon, probably within the next month or so,” Lamm said.
According to the Kickstarter page (www.kickstarter.com/projects/589813043/restore-historic-mission-control):
To restore the center, a number of changes to the configuration of the consoles will take place. When the room served as mission control for the space shuttle program during the 1980s, consoles were reconfigured and technology was upgraded. The project will restore each of the consoles to their Apollo era appearance.
Consoles will be shipped to the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, Kansas, where experts in the SpaceWorks division will restore and reanimate each console. SpaceWorks has restored numerous flown space artifacts around the globe, including artifacts currently in the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. They will install appropriate buttons and sequences and light the monochromatic displays on the CRT (cathode ray tube) monitors.
The reanimation of the consoles is a key component of bringing MOCR2 “back to life” for future visitors. In addition, the large group displays on the west wall of the MOCR2 will be reactivated using appropriate projection technology to recreate Apollo-era use of the screens. Lighting will be replaced in the room with dimmable LED lights, recreating the lighting settings that maximized control operations during Apollo missions. This will avoid future damage to historic furnishings from long-term exposure to unfiltered UV radiation.
Other important details include restoring and replacing the historic furnishings specific to the Apollo era. Extensive research, including interviews with Apollo flight controllers in the MOCR2, will confirm the activities that took place at each console and discover what types of personal items would be found on each console. We will replicate everything such as ashtrays, binders, pencils, headsets and coffee cups.
The project will start in August with the restoration and reanimation of the consoles, as this part of the project has the longest lead time.
While this is taking place, crews will begin basic cleaning, repair and refurbishment of the site, replacing carpet and acquiring all the historic furnishings required for a fully authentic Historic Mission Control. The anticipated completion date for the entire project is January 2019, in advance of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11.
Space Center Houston, a project of the Manned Space Flight Education Foundation, is the nonprofit 501(c)(3) science center that serves as the Official Visitor Center of JSC. Space Center Houston relies on private contributions and ticket revenue to fund its operations. Projects like the restoration of Historic Mission Control depend entirely on private contributions.