Johnson Space Center and Space Center Houston#1 in Best Things To Do in Houston
"Houston, we've had a problem." Most Americans have heard of the infamous phrase uttered by the Apollo 13 crew when it encountered a spacecraft explosion mid-flight on its way to the moon (or its modified "Apollo 13" movie version, "Houston, we have a problem"). The astronauts were communicating with Mission Control at this NASA space center, about 25 miles southeast of downtown Houston.
Opened in 1963 as NASA's human spaceflight hub, the center still operates as one of the country's major space centers for personnel training, research and more. Travelers interested in learning a little more about the space center's history can check out the visitors center adjacent to the facility, Space Center Houston.
The sprawling 250,000-square-foot "educational entertainment complex" invites visitors to explore its space artifacts and interactive exhibits, as well as learn about the human spaceflight program. Attractions include science and space shows, displays of shuttle launches, exhibits of space suites, Mission Control tours and a Starship Gallery full of artifacts.
Recent guests raved about the most popular attraction, a 90-minute narrated tram tour that explores some of the most interesting aspects of the space center and grounds. Visitors say the facility is especially fun for children and families, and suggest booking the free timed tickets for the tram tour in advance as the center can get crowded. Patrons will get a look at some of the space center's most interesting aspects, including astronauts in training and Mission Control.
Space Center Houston is generally open on week days from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on weekends from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., but check the website for specific seasonal hours. The center provides detailed itineraries so guests can get the most of their visit. You can save money on admission by purchasing Houston's CityPASS, otherwise, tickets cost $29.95 for adults, $27.95 for seniors and $24.95 for children ages 4 to 11; kids 3 and younger can enter for free. Ample parking is available on-site and costs $5. For more information on the attractions, visit Space Center Houston's website or the Johnson Space Center website.
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#2 Houston Museum of Natural Science
Situated in the Museum District near the Houston Zoo, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Holocaust Museum, the Houston Museum of Natural Science offers a variety of permanent exhibits. Visitors can explore everything from dinosaur fossils in the paleontology hall to sparkling emeralds, rubies and sapphires in the gem vault to interactive exhibits in the chemistry hall.
The museum's exhibit halls cover a wide range of subjects, which is why this attraction is such a popular site in Houston – there's something for everyone. The building also houses a few special exhibits, such as the Planetarium and the Cockrell Butterfly Center, though these do cost extra. If you have to pick one, travelers say the butterflies are pretty impressive. The Cockrell Butterfly Center is home to a glass-enclosed rainforest conservatory populated with exotic flora and hundreds of colorful butterflies.
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