Space Jam

Space Center Houston Launches Campaign to Restore Historic Mission Control

Historic Mission Control is taking a trip back to 1969, when Neil Armstrong took the first step on the moon.

By Cara Maines August 10, 2017

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By 2019, this room will be restored to how it was when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon—just in time for the 50th anniversary.

Space Center Houston wants to bring THE Historic Mission Control back to life. With a $5 million capital campaign in partnership with the city of Webster, the non-profit Space Center Houston—which serves as the official visitors center for NASA's Johnson Space Center—aims to restore the command center that planned and executed over 40 trips to space, including nine Gemini and all Apollo missions. 

In just a few weeks, work on Mission Control will begin. The restoration of the National Historic Landmark will rewind the clock to the year of the Apollo 11 Mission.

“We want to take you back to July 20, 1969,” says exhibit director Paul Spana. “You’re going to experience the final few moments before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon for the first time.”

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After years of visitors touching the consoles on tours, buttons have gone missing and paint has been faded.

Although the restoration project is focused on five rooms, the most extensive work will be on the most famous of these, the Mission Operations Control Room. The consoles will be shipped off to Kansas and restored, one row at a time, to the configuration of the Apollo era. Switches, panels and monitors will also be moved back to their original locations. Consoles will be reanimated to show images of what the operators would have looked at, while projections on the wall will be recreated.

“We want them to look exactly as they did in 1969,” Spana says. “Instead of empty consoles like the desktops that are there now, we’ll put three ring binders and maps and ashtrays and coffee cups.”

The project, which is expected to be completed in January 2019, is being developed in consultation with the National Park Service and Johnson Space Center. Space Center Houston has also done interviews with Apollo flight controllers to make sure that every detail is right.  

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The Mission Operations Control Room on July 20, 1969. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are shown on the surface of the moon on the television monitor.

Image: NASA

Following in the footsteps of the Smithsonian, which raised $500,000 via KickStarter to restore Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit, Space Center Houston launched a 30-day Kickstarter for their campaign. The city of Webster matched each dollar of the first $400,000 contributed. Between the initial $3.5 million contributed by Webster and the over $420,000 raised on KickStarter, the campaign is inching towards the finish line.

The crowdfunding effort began on July 20, the 48th anniversary of the first landing of the man on the moon, and closes on August 19. Prizes for donors include T-shirts, model kits, lunch dates with the Apollo flight controllers, and a patch designed by Star Trek designer Michael Okuda.

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Flight controllers and NASA officials deliberate during the risky Apollo 13 mission.

Image: NASA

Spana hopes the exhibit will inspire the over 200,000 students and educators who see Historic Mission Control on the NASA tour. Most of the people who worked in Mission Control were just in their mid 20s, which he believes will encourage young people to pursue careers in STEM.

“When they see what’s in place, I think the takeaway is that they’ll have a better understanding of all the moving pieces and the huge amount of effort that was put in place to make the moon landing possible,” Spana says. “They’ll get a clearer appreciation for how complex it was."

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