Re­fur­bished Apollo-era con­soles re­turn to Hous­ton

NASA’s restora­tion project cov­ers en­tire Mis­sion Con­trol room

San Antonio Express-News (Sunday) - - Metro - By Alex Stuckey STAFF WRITER

A group of Apollo-era NASA leg­ends — mo­bile phones set to record — rushed to see the pea green Mis­sion Con­trol room con­soles be­ing un­wrapped Thurs­day at Elling­ton Field, ea­ger for a closer look at the re­stored ver­sions of what had once been their desks.

A col­lec­tive gasp rose up from the group of gray-haired men.

Some had tears in their eyes. Oth­ers hap­pily pressed but­tons and di­aled ran­dom num­bers on the ro­tary phone pads. Still oth­ers sim­ply stood back and mar­veled at the work of Kansas-based SpaceWorks in restor­ing the con­soles to look just as they did when hu­mans first walked on the moon.

“They look great. They’re per­fect,” said Bob Grilli, who worked in Mis­sion Con­trol dur­ing the Apollo years and fondly re­calls in- stalling the con­soles at NASA’s John­son Space Cen­ter in Hous­ton. “That was my whole life.”

SpaceWorks is known for re­fur­bish­ing space items in­clud­ing the Apollo 13 com­mand mod­ule. It is a divi­sion of the Cosmosphere space and sci­ence ed­u­ca­tion cen­ter and be­gan restor­ing the con­soles ear­lier this year. The ef­fort is part of a project led by John­son and Space Cen­ter Hous­ton, the mu­seum side of John­son, to re­store and ren­o­vate his­toric Mis­sion Con­trol in time for the 50th an­niver­sary of the moon land­ing on July 20, 1969.

The his­toric room was fa­mously used for the Gemini, Apollo and a hand­ful of space shut­tle mis­sions be­fore be­ing de­com­mis­sioned in the 1990s after the Space Shut­tle Dis­cov­ery spent seven days in space in 1992. Mis­sion Con­trol had fallen into a state of dis­re­pair, and in 2015, the Na­tional Park Ser­vice des­ig­nated the Na­tional His­toric Land­mark as “threat­ened.”

Ten of the 24 con­soles sched-

uled to be re­fur­bished re­turned Thurs­day to Hous­ton aboard NASA’s Su­per Guppy, a mas­sive air­plane used to haul the space agen- cy’s flight hard­ware. Five of the con­soles are still in Kansas be­ing worked on and the last nine will be trucked there this week­end.

“These con­soles will rep­re­sent the crown jewel and cen­ter­piece of our restora­tion ef­forts,” said Jim Thornton, John­son’s Apollo Mis­sion Con­trol restora­tion project man­ager.

SpaceWorks achieved this by in­ter­view­ing in­di­vid­u­als who worked in Mis­sion Con­trol dur­ing the Apollo years, as well as ex­am­in­ing his­tor­i­cal pho­tos and video footage taken in the room, said Jack Graber, Cosmosphere’s vice pres­i­dent of ex­hibits and tech­nol­ogy.

“It was a lot of re­search,” Graber said. “It took about six to eight months.”

Judg­ing the Apollo leg­ends’ re­ac­tions, the work paid off.

“They look au­then­tic. It’s great to see all these con­soles,” said Mer­lin Mer­ritt, who worked in Mis­sion Con­trol dur­ing the Apollo era. “Any im­por­tant event in his­tory — and that cer­tainly was one — you gotta re­mem­ber that for the gen­er­a­tions to come.”

But the con­soles aren’t the only things be­ing re- stored: of­fi­cials are re­turn­ing the en­tire room on the John­son grounds to its 1969 glory.

When com­pleted in early July, the pub­lic will be able to see the room just as it was on July 24, 1969, down to some of the small­est de­tails. Car­pet­ing, tile, pa­per­work, cof­fee cups, ash­trays, and even the wall­pa­per are in the process of be­ing recre­ated to make Mis­sion Con­trol look just as if the en­tire team all went on a re­stroom break at one time and left the room unat­tended. Even the Apollo 11 mis­sion clocks will be re­ac­ti­vated.

So far, the mu­seum and its part­ners — John­son is not in­volved in the fundrais­ing — have raised $4.5 mil­lion of the $5 mil­lion needed to re­store the room. Of­fi­cials are con­fi­dent they’ll reach that goal.

“Apollo changed the world. It changed how we saw our­selves in the con­text of our so­lar sys­tem,” said John­son Di­rec­tor Mark Geyer. “The Apollo pro­gram and, more im­por­tantly, the men and women who made it hap­pen should be re­mem­bered for the his­toric ac­com­plish­ments they made.”

Steve Gon­za­les / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

James Franco takes plas­tic wrap off the first group of re­stored Mis­sion Con­trol con­soles, which helped land hu­mans on the moon. They were un­veiled at Elling­ton Field on Thurs­day.

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