Saturday, March 24, 2012

Houston, San Jacinto & NASA

Tue, March 20th - Sun, March 25th

Tuesday was a rainy day. We just stayed home and read and watched TV. Wednesday we drove into Houston. This is the Astrodome which was considered the "8th Wonder of the World" at the time it was built. It was the largest dome built in 1600 years, since Roman times. Now right behind it is the Reliant Center, which is even bigger.

This is Memorial Hermann Park in downtown Houston. Some millionaire with no family in the early 1900s gave all his money to the city to build a hospital and park for families. That hospital has now grown to the largest medical center in the country and the park is comparable to New York's Central Park.

It has the reflecting pool, fountains and monuments above and this lake where you can rent paddle boats. It has the Houston Zoo, a golf course, skate board park, tennis courts, hiking trails, a bayou, etc...over 1,200 acres total.

Along one end of the lake they have this row of animals from the Chinese calendar. Do you know what year you were born in? I was born in the year of the rabbit.

Check it out. Were you born in the year of the rat, tiger, horse...?

These are Texas Bluebonnets, the state flower, growing along Buffalo Bayou that runs along the south end of the park all the way thru the city 35 miles to the bay. They are everywhere down here, road ditches, open fields, woods, etc.

Thursday we crossed this bridge on our way over to San Jacinto, site of the decisive battle where Texas finally won their independence from Mexico.

This is the monument that was put up in 1936 on the 100th anniversary of the battle. There were supposed to be no monuments taller than the Washington Monument at 555 feet. So they built the monument exactly 555 feet and then set it on top of a 15 foot base, inside which is the San Jacinto Museum. There's always a way to make sure you have the biggest.

Just to give you an idea how big this is, John is standing on top of the 15' base right next to the monument with the reflecting pool behind him.

Views from the observation deck 489 feet up in the monument. The San Jacinto Battleground State Historical Park is on 1,200 acres of coastal prairie, tidal marsh and bottomland forest. It is surrounded by water, harbors, and petro chemical industry. Houston is 50 miles from the sea, but dredging of the 75 mile long Buffalo Bayou starting as far back as 1869 resulted in the Houston Shipping Channel thru the city to the San Jacinto River in 1914.

This view shows the shipping harbors and the Battleship Texas just to the right of the end of the reflecting pool. It is a museum and is the only survivor of the pre-World War I dreadnaughts, serving in that war and as a flagship in the WWII D-Day invasion. It is 573 feet long, 3 feet longer than the monument is tall.

This view is from down by the Battleship Texas looking back at the San Jacinto Monument. The Texans were so fired up after the Alamo, Goliad and Refugio where Santa Anna executed all the Texans left alive after those battles. Sam Houston led about 700 men against him here. Taking the Mexicans by surprise, the battle lasted about twenty minutes. When the Mexicans retreated, the Texans pursued them for an hour driving them to the water killing about 630 and capturing even more. When Santa Anna was captured and brought before Houston the next day, he signed a surrender to save his own life. When Texas joined the Union two years later, we annexed what is now Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, Utah, parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas and Oklahoma (almost 1/3 of our country, nearly a million square miles). Imagine if they had lost that battle and all of that was still part of Mexico.
I guess their claim to be the "Birthplace of Texas" is well-deserved.

This book of poetry written by Mirabeau Lamar, commander of the cavalry unit under Houston, was on display in the museum open to this page. I thought the poem about marriage was interesting.

On our way back home, we stopped at Kemah Boardwalk. We passed on the rides and just walked along the boardwalk watching the sail boats, and couldn't pass up the seafood buffet. No wonder my clothes don't fit anymore. No more buffets for me!

In 1961 the port facilities here were a major factor in the selection of Houston for NASA. At low tide the Houston Shipping Channel is 40 feet deep and 700 feet wide. It ranks first in the U.S. for foreign tonnage and second in total tonnage. They get 5,500 ships a year with foreign trade alone of 70 million tons, more than $33 billion.

Friday we went to Space Center Houston, the Official Visitors Center of NASA's Johnson Space Center. They have all kinds of space craft, space suits, flight simulators, five different theaters, 800 pounds of lunar rocks and a 90 minute tram tour around the whole space center which covers 1,600 acres and employs over 14,000 people.

The tram tour took us thru the factory area where they are building new space crafts. Here the astronauts were doing demo walk-thru in their new space suits.

This was a display with the Lunar Roving Vehicle.
In the Blast Off movie, you get to see, hear and feel what it's like when 7 million pounds of thrust push a four and a half million pound vehicle skyward.

This shows a guy weightless inside the Sky Lab. The circle of white panels are lockers that the astronauts would use like a track and run around it for exercise. Their plates had velcro on the bottom, so they could fasten them down when they put them in the microwave. They had to strap themselves against the wall when they went to bed, so they wouldn't be floating around. The bathroom had vacuum hoses everywhere, so you could suck stuff away as fast as your body excreted it.

This is the Saturn I in a building that seemed about the size of a football field. We spent the whole day here and I think you could spend two, if you were really interested. It cost us $17.00 each (buying tickets ahead on the internet, $27.00 at the door), but they do have a $90.00, 5 hour behind-the-scenes tour, if you're really into it. One of the things we watched about the Space Station said they would see 16 sunsets in 24 hours as they floated around up there.

Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin, Jr. made the first step by humans on the moon July 20, 1969.

Here are a couple of quotes I especially liked.

"... when I first looked back at the Earth, standing on the moon, I cried."

Alan B. Sheperd, Jr.

"We came all this way to explore the moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth." William A. Anders

And a couple I think everybody remembers.

"Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."

Neil A Armstrong

"Hey Houston, we've had a problem here."

James A. Lovell, Jr.

We've had a problem, too. Not enough time. Houston is the largest city in Texas and the 4th largest in the country with over 2.2 million people. From our campground in League City we drove about a half hour south to Galveston. When we left on Sunday, we drove north for an hour before we left the metro area. There is so much to see and do here. I hope we get a chance to come back sometime.

A couple things I forgot to mention in earlier blogs. The Texas litter campaign is "Don't Mess With Texas" $1,000.00 fine. Signs along the highways with an outline of the state and a big red DWI across it and "You Can't Afford It", while at the same time, they have big drive-thru liquor stores everywhere. And a t-shirt I saw in one visitor center that had a six shooter on the front and said, "We don't call 911 in Texas".

We have found everyone to be very friendly and helpful and they love the Winter Texans down here, especially the Canuks, of which there are so many, eh?

Sunday night we left Texas and landed in Hope, Arkansas, just north of Texarkana. We will be here two nights and then on to Little Rock for a few days.

More in a few days.


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