February 21, 2017
A change of plans gives me time to get totally caught up to date with blogging. I’m sitting in a motel room in the far northern suburbs of Houston, having ridden only five miles and being spared a long ride through the entire length of the city. Originally the plan was for me to stay near Hobby Airport on the south side of Houston, and for my wife Cristina to fly in and meet me for a long weekend. However, the only reasonably priced airfares were to Houston’s newer and larger George Bush Airport, located north of the city. So that’s where she flew and rented a car, driving across the city and meeting me at our comfortable hotel near Hobby. Houston is by no means a bicycle-friendly city; it would have been difficult riding much farther into town than I already did.
Her suggestion was to ferry the bicycle and me to a location near the motel where I planned to stay after my traversing of the city. It was less than eight miles from George Bush Airport. I had serious doubts everything would fit into a compact rental car without a bike rack. Indeed it was very difficult, but with a lot of patience I managed to load the bicycle, trailer and all my gear. As a result, I saved 30 miles of difficult urban riding. I don’t feel the least bit guilty.
The ride into Houston was difficult enough. On Friday I endured three and a half hours of steady, rather heavy rain. The only saving graces were that the temperatures were in the low 60s and the rain let up for the last two hours. It takes determination–some would say sheer stubbornness–to forge ahead in rain like that.
Fortunately Saturday and Sunday were dry and balmy with quite a bit of sun after the morning haze burned off. Saturday we decided to drive to Galveston and see the city’s famous seawall and beach along the Gulf of Mexico. Despite a fairly stiff breeze and water temperatures not conducive to more than wading, there was a moderate crowd. We took photos and strolled along Seawall Boulevard.
Sunday was the highlight of Cristina’s trip. She grew up in Romania in the 1960s and ’70s, and has memories of being awakened by her father in the middle of the night to watch the first moon landing on television. I suspect this is one of the sources of her lifelong interest in math and technology. At any rate, she has always wanted to visit Houston and the Johnson Space Center where the landings and other human spaceflights were and continue to be directed. The words “Houston, we’ve had a problem here” hold special meaning for her.
Nor had I been there before, either. I was warned that the experience has been greatly “Disney-fied” in the past decade. That certainly was the case. After paying the considerable admission fee, we entered the main pavilion. The best example I can provide is the policy about free Wi-Fi internet service. In order to take advantage of this feature, you must have a Facebook account and log in using your ID and password, agreeing in the process to “like” the Space Center. Suffice to say that what I like has little or nothing to do with Facebook.
However, there were a number of very interesting exhibits, including full-size, authentic versions of the Mars Rover robotic explorer and a lunar lander capsule, as well as modules identical to those on the International Space Station and a preview of upcoming human missions to Mars. Once on the tram tour of the Johnson Space Center campus itself, the hype is far more restrained. We saw the control room used for Project Orion, which involves the continuing preliminaries for the Mars landing, a number of early rockets for manned missions, an awe-inspiring complete Saturn V booster, and back outside the pavilion, one of the Space Shuttle training mock-ups and the actual modified 747 that carried the shuttles from the main landing site in California back to the launch site in Florida.
Despite the many ways a visitor is manipulated into feeling so, it only partially diminishes the pride in the bold ideals and dedicated people who made space exploration possible and will enable it to continue into the future.
Monday was another rainy day, on which we were content to visit St. Arnold’s Brewing, the oldest craft brewery in Texas, and receive a tour given by one of their brewers. As a serious beer geek and former craft brewer myself, I can report that he only made one technical error in describing the process, which was easily excused by his enthusiasm. The beers in their large German-style beer hall were well-brewed and tasty, too.
On the way back to our hotel we made a side trip to the campus of Rice University in Houston’s upscale West University neighborhood. There, just as the sun was finally appearing about an hour before dusk, we spied azaleas blooming in the front yards of the attractive homes. If that isn’t a sure sign of springtime, I don’t know what is.
Here we are on the beach at Galveston:
Old-fashioned amusement at Galveston’s “Pleasure Pier”:
A model of what carried the astronauts to and from the lunar surface:
Even the older rockets dwarfed us mere humans:
It’s amazing how the Space Shuttle was transported on earth:
Good beer and a good sport:
Now this is springtime: