Not too long ago I found out that I had more than a little space-geekiness inside me. It all happened at Space Center Houston, a must visit destination for any family BUT so incredible for those of us who are a bit older. Why? Well, you see, a visit to Space Center Houston can include a little tram ride over to Johnson Space Center. YES! Be prepared and take note, as I share what you need to know so you don’t miss this incredible opportunity which includes a trip to Rocket Park and the famous Mission Control Center.
Don’t forget to also read my comprehensive Guide to Space Center Houston, with details you won’t want to miss to make the most of your trip.
(Complimentary access to Space Center Houston was previously provided. Some links in post may be affiliate links, where at no cost to you, a small commission might be earned during a purchase.)
Your Johnson Space Center Guide
What’s the Difference Between Johnson Space Center and Space Center Houston?
Space Center Houston is one of Houston’s top attractions, but it’s also the Official Visitor Center of NASA Johnson Space Center. Many don’t realize this upon entering the premises. Some leave without realizing they missed out on a huge opportunity. Big mistake, and you’ll want to prepare. Read on.
Johnson Space Center is home to the nation’s astronaut corps, the International Space Station mission operations, and the Orion program. It is THE epicenter. How many movie buffs recall the factually incorrect phrase, “Houston, we have a problem?” While the popular phrase may be slightly different than the actual words spoken during that Apollo 13 mission, the point is clear. Houston is THE place where it all happens.
Can you Tour Johnson Space Center?
Fortunately for us, a NASA Tram Tour is included in your admission to Space Center Houston. You read that right. There is no extra admission or VIP tour charge and the NASA Tram Tour is your ticket onto the premises of Johnson Space Center, located adjacent to the tourist attraction.
TIP: I highly recommend doing this early on in your visit, perhaps after touring the shuttle replica (an incredible experience I share about in my Guide to Space Center Houston. Lines for the tours can get long and depending on the time of year, it can be very hot and humid as the queue for the tours are outside, though covered.
2021 Pandemic Virtual Pass – At the bottom of this post I share the new requirements which alleviate those lines for tours I just mentioned. No worries.
Because the tram tours are so popular, be sure to not get distracted by all the fun Space Center Houston has to offer. The kids can easily spend hours in parts of the center and you might miss out. Unless you know you want to wait, head there first. Go straight inside and head to the back right. Ask if you can’t find it.
Two Different NASA Tram Tours (Do Both)
There are two different tram tours and I recommend both.
- Astronaut Training Facility Tour
- Mission Control Center Tour
The tours involve riding on open-air trams, so if the weather is bad, I imagine they would cancel the tours. That may impact when you want to plan a visit. Watch the weather forecast.
It’s also important to note that the trams leave Space Center Houston and enter Johnson Space Center with stops at government buildings where there are working government employees. I would imagine that depending on events or daily activities, the tours could be modified or cancelled with little to no notice.
NOTE: The last tour departs two hours prior to the center closing, so be mindful of this, especially if you want to do both tours.
What To Expect During Your Johnson Space Center Tour
A Stop at Rocket Park
Rocket Park is inside the property at Johnson Space Center and accessible during your tram tour. You’ll discover areas both outside and inside a large
Every tour stops at Rocket Park on the way back towards Space Center Houston. Here you will find one of only three of the remaining actual Saturn V rockets along with other rockets. Do yourself a favor and grab a Saturn V Plus Plus interlocking block set before your trip and surprise the kids with it. They can build what they viewed firsthand at Rocket Park. Those of us who are older might recall that these were the tallest, heaviest and most powerful rockets ever flown, sending astronauts to the moon during the Apollo program.
If you take both tours, you will likely want to stay on your tram the second time around and skip a stop at Rocket Park.
Astronaut Training Facility Tour
The Astronaut Training Facility Tour is one of two tours available to take into Johnson Space Center. You will head into the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility, also known as Building 9.
This is where NASA astronauts actually train for missions! If you time it just right, you might see astronauts in action. You will watch from a glassed-in walkway high above with incredible views of actual workspaces and mockups of space exploration vehicles that are being developed.
We toured later in the day, but there were still plenty of NASA employees working. The highlight was watching NASA’s space robot Valkyrie in action. There’s no telling what you might observe during a visit.
Mission Control Center Tour
COVID UPDATE: Note: Due to COVID-19-related safety and security measures at Johnson Space Center, the NASA Tram Tours currently offer a choice of visiting Rocket Park or the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility and not Mission Control. Please check their website for updates.
On this tour you visit the Christopher C. Kraft Mission Control and the historic Mission Operations Control Room, the epicenter where NASA led the Gemini and Apollo missions. Walking inside “Mission Control” is like going back in time. The outdated computers. The photographs. Even the cigarette ash containers on the backs of chairs in the room overlooking Mission Control.
This is the image we have when we think of those early missions to space. It was priceless to be able to see it firsthand.
Be on the Lookout
During your tram ride, be on the lookout as you will pass by a number of buildings where special projects are being conducted. Also be on the lookout for deer (there are plenty of deer freely roaming Johnson Space Center grounds.)
2021 Virtual Tour Pass: Currently a NASA Tram Tour boarding pass is required to take the NASA Tram Tour. There are two options to get your free boarding pass.
- Download the free Space Center Houston app, tap the “Join tram virtual line” button, fill out all required spots, and reserve your virtual boarding passes.
- Visit the Guest Services Desk at the entrance to Space Center Houston, and a crewmember will reserve your boarding pass.
Don’t forget to read my comprehensive Guide to Space Center Houston!
Coming Soon in this Space Series:
Where to Stay for a Trip to Space Center Houston
What Other Space Related Things to Do During a Trip
Behind the Scenes at Kennedy Space Center
Attending a Live Rocket Launch
More Family Travel Posts:
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