Apollo Mission Control Center's past is in its future
By January 2019, the Space Center Houston (SCH) is hoping to fully restore the historic Apollo Mission Control Center (MCC) back to its former 1969 glory, ready for the 50th anniversary of humankind's first steps on the Moon. The MCC, which acted as the nerve center for the Apollo moon landings, and later for the US Space Shuttle Program, had fallen into disrepair to the extent that, in 2015, the National Park Service labelled the site as "threatened."
Following the operational abandonment of the MCC in 1995, the passage of time and unlimited visitor access took their toll on the national treasure. The SCH, which acts as a nonprofit educational foundation, and as the visitor center for the Johnson Space Center (JSC) is not funded by the US Government, and so must rely on private donors to sponsor the project.
The restoration effort will encompass the entirety of the MCC, which is nestled on the third floor of Building 30 of the JSC.
The nucleus of the project is the Historic Mission Operations Control Room (MOCR2), which during the Apollo era was fitted with row upon row of iconic consoles that faced a bank of display screens covering the west wall. However, for the purposes of the Space Shuttle Program, the room was remodelled and updated.
Other sections of the Apollo MCC included the Simulation Control Room, and the Recovery Control Room, which, as its name suggests, was where NASA personnel once oversaw the retrieval of Apollo crew members following splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.
The SCH and its partners hope to wind back the clock, and transform the entire complex of rooms back to the condition they were in directly after the successful Apollo 11 Moon landing. The modifications made during the Shuttle era will be stripped out, and computer consoles and screens faithful to the Apollo configuration will be installed in their place.
Replicating the technology of the time is a challenging prospect in itself, but recreating the atmosphere and gravitas of that fateful night is an entirely different kind of beast, and the team behind the project are hoping that the devil is in the details.
The SCH and its partners have interviewed past mission controllers and undertaken in-depth research in an attempt to build a detailed picture of the historic environment. Alongside installing authentic furnishings, each console will be scattered with items related to their use, and the habits of their occupants. This could include coffee cups, binders, ash trays and even personal effects.
Alongside retrograde fitting the décor and computer systems, the SCH hopes to install a world class visitor center, that in conjunction with the historic setting, will help to drive home the significance of the site, and to inspire future generations with the incredible feats that were achieved there.
The SCH has set the fundraising target for the project at US$5 million. Work is set to begin next month and the team is hoping that the restorations and improvements will be completed around January 2019.
Early this year, the City of Webster, Texas, which once played host to many of the men and women who worked to make the Apollo program a reality, made a gift of $3.1 million, to the campaign.
Then, on July 20, 48 years to the day since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped onto the surface of the Moon, the Space Center Houston launched a Kickstarter campaign to help bridge the gap in funds to retro renovate the MCC.
The Kickstarter campaign was accompanied by a pledge from the City of Webster, known as the "Webster Challenge", which promised to match contributions to the project dollar for dollar up to the $400,000 mark.
The crowdfunding endeavour has proven to be a phenomenal success. At the time of writing with 18 days left to run, backers had donated an incredible $301,992, smashing the campaign's make or break target of $250,000.