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HOUSTON – After retiring in the 1990s, Gene Kranz began occasionally touring VIPs at NASA's Johnson Space Center.
But the mission control was a mess.
] Mr. Kranz had to show up early before each tour to monitor the site. He had to collect the garbage that lay on computer consoles where men had once landed on the moon. Water bottles, Coke cans. He was going to empty crammed paper baskets.
"This place was not representative of historical mission control," said Kranz. It was also a technical mess. "The console configuration did not reflect where we were and what we did."
On Friday, Mr. Kranz and Jim Bridenstine, the NASA administrator, cut a ribbon that marked the official reopening of the restored Apollo Mission Control Center. It was a three-year, $ 5 million project, and every inch of the famous heart of American lunar aspirations was repaired and renovated. The reopening will take place three weeks before the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong's great leap for humanity and will help launch the Apollo celebrations across the country.
The Apollo Mission Control was abandoned in 1992, and all operations were transferred to a modernized mission control center at another Site relocated in the building. Center staff, friends, family – and anyone who had access to Building 30 – could come in, sit down, have lunch, and take pictures.
While they were there, they could take a button from one of the computer consoles. Or a switch or a dial, something small – a personal souvenir of an old American achievement. The furniture fabric and the carpet under the feet were worn. The room was dark; None of the devices had electricity. Wires hung where dials used to be. The huge screens in front of the room were damaged, and the room smelled like mildew. Yellow tape held the carpet in places.
"They knew it was not right – they just knew it," said Sandra Tetley, the historic conservation officer at the Johnson Space Center. "But it was not a priority. We are an organization that is on the way to the future, so there is no budget to do such things.
The project was started seriously six years ago. The jubilee was coming and that was the trigger to improve mission control and get it right. "We wanted to meet a high standard to restore it, and we celebrated this 50th anniversary," Tetley said.
The National Park Service established the Apollo Mission Control Center as a National Historic Landmark in 1985. After deciding to restore the facility in 2013, Mr. Kranz, Mrs. Tetley, Jim Thornton, the director of the restoration project, and others at every turn blocked. There were financing problems and internal turf wars.
The Apollo Mission Control Center is located in the middle of a corporate building where life and death decisions are made for missions in flight. Decisions on spacewalks, station – threatening debris, and solutions to mechanical disruptions leave little room for error or interruption by tourists.
Eventually, however, the Houston Space Center, a nonprofit education complex and space museum, took over the leadership of the fund's efforts. The nearby city of Webster, Texas, donated $ 3.5 million of the $ 5 million needed to complete the project. A Kickstarter campaign and independent donations filled the rest.
Like the Oval Office or the Assembly Hall of the Independence Hall, mission control is a distinctly American space – a space so culturally rooted that its name means to crunch it in the morning Head as if you had been there, even worked there. And the restoration has been completed in a way that fits in with their place in the American historical imagination.
Four long rows of light green consoles fill the room. There are white panels upstairs and beige carpet below. On the consoles, lights dance purposefully, each playing Apollo-accurate video broadcasts, as seen at the time of the moon landing, or displaying grids with numbers and prehistoric computer code. Four huge displays in the front of the room contain maps, matrices, and astronaut position diagrams.
On the consoles are objects that can be seen in photographs from the Apollo period. Ashtrays and coffee cups, staplers and stopwatches, pens and pencils, headsets and dial telephones. There are three inch mission control manuals and canisters for compressed air hoses. Binders, eyeglasses and cigar boxes stand next to doses of RC Cola and packs of Winston cigarettes. The room is a museum piece and yet alive, as if engineers get off briefly, but would be right back. Each object is authentically and carefully researched according to grainy photographs.
"It was a Herculean effort by the team to really do what we did in this room today," said Jennifer Keys, the project manager of the restoration team.
Ceiling tiles that corresponded to the original were eventually salvaged from a telephone booth in the lobby at the Johnson Space Center. Behind a fire extinguisher a preserved wallpaper was discovered. All had to be meticulously coordinated or produced identically. For the consoles original color was found. And beyond these consoles, the artifacts of yesteryear.
"We tracked things on eBay from donations from people – whatever we could find. We did a scavenger hunt at Johnson Space Center to look for things like trash cans, chairs, and binders.
The Apollo Mission Control flight crews were known for their attention to detail. That's how they brought every astronaut home. The restoration team showed no less respect for fine details and the effect is scary.
From the observation gallery, you can almost see phantom engineers in white shirts and black ties talking quietly in headsets about high-powered orbital maneuvers, taking notes, and pressing those buttons. The stories are played out in your imagination and yet before your eyes.
Christopher Craft, who invented flight operations for NASA when the agency was founded, is credited with the design of mission control. There was nothing like the space program, and there were no models of how it should be done. The air traffic control model would not work because the tower in this setting has a line of sight on everything in its aegis. The domain of mission control, on the other hand, is abstract: a certain set of events at a given time and problems solved with mathematics and moxie.
The genius of their design is reflected in today's mission control center, which is running operations for the International Space Station. The computers are smaller, the monitors larger, the table tops wider and the office chairs more beautiful.
However, the interior design is almost identical. Above them are five giant screens of mission status updates and feeds from orbit. And although the time of the Apollo generation is quickly ending, the things used by mission leaders are still basically the same.
Everything is clearly visible from the gallery. Desktops are lined with coffee cups and Coca-Cola, pens and papers, binders, headsets and eyewear. The room is full and quiet, the use is still high. With NASA planning a return of Americans to the Moon over the next decade with the Artemis mission, the stakes are set to increase.
Guided tours for the public begin on July 1st. Earlier this week, Mr. Kranz went for a walk for the first time to the newly restored Mission Control. He agreed.
"It was dazzling," he said. "You could not believe it, suddenly you were 50 years younger and you wanted to work there, I wanted to work in this room again."