Refurbished Apollo-era consoles return to Houston
NASA’s restoration project covers entire Mission Control room
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.”
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.