With 2 weeks left before we head home-it was time to slowly make our way towards Galveston, where Ruby will be leaving first, on her ship to Southampton. We spent a few days outside Houston, sorting out all our stuff.
We treated ourselves to a day at the NASA space centre and it was absolutely fantastic! We were there from the moment it opened to almost the moment it closed. Part of the day included a 90 minute tram tour which took us around significant points of interest in the Johnson space centre. The space centre presently serves as the home of mission control, NASA’s lead for International Space Station operations and missions, home to the Orion Multi-purpose crew vehicle, and numerous advanced human exploration projects. The centre also plays an important role in NASA’s Commercial Crew programmes.
The first stop took us into the room which overlooked the historic mission control, which managed, amongst many things, all of the lunar landings. As the world watched the outcome of Apollo 11, the first attempted lunar landing, employees in the NASA Mission Control Center held their breaths during the entire descent. Everyone anxiously awaited the confirmation of a safe arrival from its Apollo crew. At approximately 3:18 p.m. on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong’s famous words were forever ingrained in history: “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” Once word was received from the lunar module, capsule communicator (CAPCOM) Charlie Duke responded to Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. He expressed the feelings of relief and excitement that were felt in Mission Control and around the world:“Roger, Tranquility. We copy you on the ground. You’ve got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.”
In fact, from this room, the NASA team exercised full mission control of Apollo 11 from launch and liftoff at the Kennedy Space Center to splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. You can feel the history in the room from the monitors to the rotary dial phones.
It was so interesting and we saw the small speaker where the first and last words from the moon were broadcast and also the infamous line "Houston we have a problem"-which we learnt were not the exact words that were used! The exact words were "Okay, Houston, we've had a problem here" We learnt that 12 people have set foot on the moon, and there have been 12 manned (only men so far) landings (all by the USA). In those days-there was only one computer used with one as back up-its computer power was only the size of a phone app that we use nowadays! The success depended on 10 per cent technology and 90 per cent brain power-the staff using slide rules (there were no calculators!) to land man on the moon! Incredible! The room we were sitting in was the one used by the families of the astronauts, to see their loved ones in space. They had an open invitation to attend.
We visited the space vehicle mock up facility and astronaut training centre-where all astronauts have trained since 1980. There have been several types of mockups within the facility and each served a different function for astronauts and engineers. Initially, the facility housed space shuttle training modules such as the full fuselage trainer and two crew compartment trainers. The building is home to exploration rover prototypes and other robotics projects such as Valkyrie, NASA’s next generation of humanoid robot also known as R5. International Space Station modules help astronauts become familiarized with the space station in preparation for their mission. Orion, NASA’s crewed space vehicle, is being evaluated and tested by astronauts in Building 9 as engineers finalize Orion’s design. Orion is the space vehicle that will eventually take humans (hopefully including a female) to land on Mars.
We explored Rocket Park, where one of only three of the remaining actual Saturn V rockets is displayed, along with other rockets that propelled space exploration. The Saturn V rocket at NASA Johnson Space Center is the tallest, heaviest and most powerful rocket ever flown. NASA used the colossal Saturn V rockets primarily during the Apollo programme to send Americans to the moon. There are only three Saturn V rockets on display in the world. The three segments, called stages, contain the powerful engines needed to lift off, entering orbit to reach the moon. In total, 13 Saturn V rockets launched into space. The Saturn V rocket stands 363 feet tall and has dazzled viewers since its first un-crewed takeoff, the Apollo 4 mission in 1967. When fueled and ready for launch, the rocket can weigh 6.2 million pounds (2.8 kg). That is almost the same weight as 39 space shuttle orbiters.
Flown from 1967 to 1973, the rocket launched 27 astronauts into space with six successful missions landing men on the moon. Saturn V also launched Skylab, America’s first space station, into orbit in its final mission. Astronauts could immediately feel the impressive power of Saturn V propelling them through Earth’s atmosphere into orbit. It was, as the American`s would say, awesome!
There was plenty more to see. We visited a shuttle replica Independence, mounted on top of the historic and original NASA 905 shuttle carrier aircraft, and then explored the giant plane. It is the world’s only shuttle mounted on an shuttle carrier aircraft and the only one allowing the public to enter both. We learnt about the planned missions to Mars, we saw how astronauts live in space and we listened to a talk by an astronaut who described his favourite moment in space as seeing the earth for the first time and how emotional that was.
We then made our way to Galveston for our last few days. It was Ruby`s turn first and we took her to the port, ready for shipping. We had to pay for an escort to take us into the port-as you cannot drive in by yourself. A lovely man called Gary from Galveston was our escort-he met us at the port and took us to where we needed to go. Someone came and checked Ruby`s VIN and wrote a series of numbers on her window (I guess to identify which ship she will be going on). Next, I took the dock receipt to be stamped. Gary showed us where to park Ruby. And that was that. We left the old girl there ready to be shipped by roll on roll off (instead of a container, she will be driven on and off). We will be reunited with her again around the end of June.
It was a strange feeling leaving her there. Ruby has been our home, our transport and our life for the last 2 years (other than hotels and airbnbs!) and has done us proud. She has been fantastic. Whilst we have had a number of mechanical issues-none have been too serious and she has kept going mile after mile after mile. People love Ruby-she has had countless photos taken and has been pulled over many times by the police and military, so they could have a good look at her. She has been an integral part of the trip and through her we have met some wonderful people-such as Francis and Elsa in Portland, Graham and Joyce in Belize, all the landy guys in Colombia and the wonderful Jorge in Argentina. It has also bought us into contact with the lovely Mike Trott from the Landy paper. Thank you and safe travels Rubes-see you back in Blighty!
Next we headed to customs, handed in our paperwork and were given clearance to export her home. Heading back to the airbnb, emotion must have overcome me, as I fell flat on my face! I looked up to see Gav peering at me, looking all concerned, however I was fine!
We spent our last morning on a wonderful fishing trip from Galveston port. It was the day of the royal wedding so I had got up at 4.30am to watch it live! (I loved it-as did all the Americans we have spoken to!) We went on a large boat with about 80 other people, out into the bay. We had a lovely few hours-with dolphins following the boat- and Gav caught and released 3 catfish. We also sailed past Ruby-patiently waiting for her boat! She must have thought "look at those buggers, still enjoying themselves, whilst my trip is over"!
So that`s it folks. We`re done. Tomorrow we fly back from Houston, almost exactly 2 years to the day we flew from the UK to New York, to start the trip. We have had a wonderful time and seen some of the most incredible things. We have set foot on the most remote continent on earth and felt we were part of a David Attenborough documentary! We have met some brilliant people-with whom we shall stay in touch, We have been welcomed by lovely people in all of the different countries and places, and have felt humbled by the tremendous amount of human kindness everywhere we have been. We have never felt unsafe and have always found someone to help us, when we needed it. The world is largely a safe place and people are generally kind people. We need to build connections and bridges, not walls and barriers. We have never taken our tremendous privileges for granted and have felt so lucky to be able to do this trip.
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body,but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming "WOW-what a ride!"
Somebody said that it couldn’t be done
But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it!
Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least no one ever has done it;”
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.
There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure,
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.
WOW-What a RIDE!