News Center

Former NASA Human Research Program Chief Scientist Joins Space Center Houston

Space Center Houston welcomes 33-year NASA veteran scientist John B. Charles, Ph.D. as the nonprofit’s first scientist in residence. This new role will emphasize and integrate the human health and performance aspect of space exploration into the center’s learning environment.

Dr. Charles will help interpret space research into guest experiences and education programs via exhibits, presentations, experiential activities and curriculum, according to Tracy Lamm, the center’s chief operating officer.

“We pride ourselves in offering guests an authentic learning experience,” said Lamm. “John adds a true science connection to space exploration with his decades of experience.”

Space Center Houston Now a Certified Autism Center

Space Center Houston strives to ensure that the nonprofit is an accessible and accepting destination. That essential work has been recognized by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards.

The science and space exploration learning center is the first of its kind to be designated as a Certified Autism Center by the IBCCES.

“Science, technology, engineering and mathematics education is for everyone,” said William T. Harris, the center’s president and CEO. “This certification highlights our dedication to be inclusive and to inspire the next generation of problem solvers.”

JSC’s new director Mark Geyer at work


Mark Geyer didn’t have far to go when he switched offices last month, but the move put him directly in the spotlight. On May 25, Geyer began work as the 12th director of NASA Johnson Space Center. He previously served as deputy director to the outgoing Ellen Ochoa.

“It’s an honor to be appointed to lead the men and women of this proud center,” Geyer said. “Johnson Space Center has unique capabilities that are critical to NASA’s ability to execute our mission to take humans farther into the solar system, and I look forward to working with each and every one of you on the ambitious tasks ahead.”

Geyer’s career in public service has spanned 28 years and includes terms as manager of the Orion program, deputy program manager of the Constellation program, systems engineer and manager of the International Space Station office. Geyer also served in Washington, D.C. as part of the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate.

Geyer has been recognized with NASA’s Exceptional Service Medal in 2000, the Space Flight Awareness Leadership Award in 2003, the NASA Commendation Award in 2011 and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal in 2015. He was also a nominee for the Federal Engineer of the Year Award in 2012.

“We are extraordinarily excited to support Mark in this leadership role,” said William Harris, President and CEO of Space Center Houston. “He is a longtime friend of Space Center Houston and we look forward to working with him to share the remarkable adventure of human space exploration.”

Geyer replaces Ochoa, who retired last week after a 30-year career with NASA. Ochoa is a retired astronaut and spent six years as director of JSC.

Exhibit Spotlight: Sally Ride’s coveralls


NASA astronaut Sally K. Ride

On June 18, 1983, Sally K. Ride become became the first American woman in space, nearly 20 years to the day after Valentina Tereshkova became the first female to break the Earth’s bounds.

On the first of two trips into orbit, Ride helped deploy two different satellites in her capacity as mission specialist, responsible for the 50-foot remote manipulator arm used to move payloads in and out of the cargo bay.

In Space Center Houston’s Astronaut Gallery, a pair of in-flight coveralls commemorate Ride’s accomplishments. These coveralls are similar to the pair worn by Ride on her historic 1983 mission.


The coveralls Ride wore are displayed in Astronaut Gallery.

Much like the craft surrounding them, these coveralls did a little of everything. With a variety of pockets useful for storing necessary flight items, these coveralls can be invaluable in the weightlessness of near-Earth orbit.

Ride’s ride on the Challenger in 1983 was in many ways made possible by the spacecraft itself. The Space Shuttle Program promoted an egalitarian approach to astronaut selection. No longer did an astronaut have to be a pilot or military-trained. Teachers, painters, scientists and dreamers could soar into the sky aboard an orbiter like Ride did.

With a doctorate from Stanford, the accomplished athlete, respected scientist and lover of Shakespeare is a very inspiring part of space history. Every young girl who walks through Astronaut Gallery can see Ride’s accomplishments and know they, too, can one day ride among the stars.

Remembering Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean


(19-20 Nov. 1969) — Astronaut Alan L. Bean holds a Special Environmental Sample Container filled with lunar soil collected during a walk on the moon. Pete Conrad, who took this picture, is reflected in Bean’s helmet visor. Photo credit: NASA

Alan Bean will be remembered for being the fourth person to walk on the moon and having the soul of an artist. Bean died Saturday at Houston Methodist Hospital at age 86. According to his family, Bean’s death followed a sudden illness that befell him two weeks ago.

“The world grows a little dimmer with Alan’s passing,” Space Center Houston President & CEO William T. Harris said. “He was a pioneer in the space program, helping us reach the monumental task of walking on the moon through the Apollo Program. He also gave back so much after his retirement. We want to inspire everyone through space exploration and Alan’s art provides plenty of inspiration. He will be missed.”

Bean joined the third class of astronauts in 1963 and served as a backup crewmember on Gemini 10 and Apollo 9. He flew two missions to space, including Apollo 12 and commanding the second Skylab mission. Bean logged 1,672 hours in space, including more than 10 hours of spacewalks on the moon and in Earth orbit. He flew 27 aircraft types and accumulated more than 7,145 hours of flight time, 4,890 hours of it in jets.

“Alan Bean was an American hero who blazed trails for astronauts who have followed in his footsteps,” Johnson Space Center Director Mark Geyer said. “His command of the second crewed Skylab spacecraft in 1973 served as the foundation for 24/7 space operations, and many lessons learned there were applied to the International Space Station throughout the past 17 years. Capt. Bean’s experiences allowed us to advance human space exploration for the benefit of humanity and we are grateful for his service to our nation’s space program.”


(21 Sept. 1971) — Portrait of astronaut Alan L. Bean in civilian clothes. Photo credit: NASA

A friend of Space Center Houston, Bean painted the mural in the hallway by the NASA Tram Tour. Bean was also part of the Skylab project and the center is home to the trainer Skylab astronauts used at Johnson Space Center. He spoke at Space Exploration Educators Conference (SEEC) multiple time and gave his time to work with Space Center Houston volunteers.

He will be remembered as much for his exploits among the stars as for the artistry he used to bring us all closer to the skies. His Apollo-themed paintings featured canvases textured with lunar boot prints and were made using acrylics embedded with small pieces of his moon dust-stained mission patches.

“At one-sixth gravity in that suit, you have to move in a different way,” Bean said. “One of the paintings that I did was called ‘Tip Toeing on The Ocean of Storms.’ And it shows that I’m up on my tiptoes as I’m moving around. And we did that a lot.

“On Earth, I weighed 150 pounds; my suit and backpack weighed another 150. 300 pounds. Up there, I weighed only 50. So I could prance around on my toes. It was quite easy to do. And if you remember back to some of the television we saw, Buzz and Neil on the Moon with Apollo 11. Black and white. They were bouncing around a lot. They were really bouncing on their tiptoes. Quite fun to do. Someday maybe (it will) be a great place for a vacation.”


(27 Aug. 1973) — Astronaut Alan Bean flies the M509 Astronaut Maneuvering Equipment in the forward dome area on Skylab in Earth orbit. One of his fellow crewmen took this photograph with a 35mm Nikon camera. Photo credit: NASA

On Nov. 19, 1969, Bean, together with Apollo 12 commander Charles “Pete” Conrad, landed on the Ocean of Storms and became the fourth human to walk on the moon. During two moonwalks Bean helped deploy several surface experiments and installed the first nuclear-powered generator station on the moon to provide the power source. He and Conrad inspected a robotic Surveyor spacecraft and collected 75 pounds (34 kilograms) of rocks and lunar soil for study back on Earth.

As spacecraft commander of the Skylab II mission, from July 19 to Sept. 25, 1973, Bean and fellow crew members Owen Garriott and Jack Lousma spent 59 days and traveled 24.4 million miles in orbit. Their flight set a world record.

“Alan Bean once said ‘I have the nicest life in the world.’ It’s a comforting sentiment to recall as we mourn his passing,” NASA Administrator Jim Brindenstine said. “As all great explorers are, Alan was a boundary pusher. Rather than accepting the limits of technology, science, and even imagination, he sought to advance those lines — in all his life’s endeavors.”

Born in Wheeler, Texas, Bean is survived by his wife Leslie, a sister Paula Stott, and two children from a prior marriage, a daughter Amy Sue and son Clay. Bean graduated from Paschal High School in Fort Worth, Texas. In 1955, Bean was awarded an aeronautical engineering degree from the University of Texas. He was a Navy ROTC student there and was commissioned when he graduated. After he finished flight training, he spent four years with a jet attack squadron and then attended Navy test pilot school.

NASA seeks InSights into Mars


Soon, Curiosity will get a friend on the surface of the red planet. NASA launched its next mission to Mars on May 5: a new lander named Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (abbreviated InSight).

In addition to being the first-ever mission to study the heart of Mars, InSight was the first planetary mission to launch from the West Coast when it set off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

What will InSight do?

Set to land in November 2018, InSight will help scientists understand the processes that shaped the rocky planets of the inner solar system more than four billion years ago. This mission is part of NASA’s Discovery Program for highly focused science missions that ask critical questions in solar system science.

InSight will delve deep beneath the surface of Mars, detecting the fingerprints of the processes of terrestrial planet formation, as well as measuring the planet’s “vital signs”: Its “pulse” (seismology), “temperature” (heat flow probe), and “reflexes” (precision tracking).

The InSight mission is similar in design to the Mars lander that the Phoenix mission used successfully in 2007 to study ground ice near the north pole of Mars. The reuse of this technology, developed and built by Lockheed-Martin Space Systems in Denver, CO, will provide a low-risk path to Mars without the added cost of designing and testing a new system from scratch.

The InSight lander will be equipped with two scientific instruments that will conduct the first “check-up” of Mars in more than 4.5 billion years, measuring its “pulse”, or internal activity; its temperature; and its “reflexes” (the way the planet wobbles when it is pulled by the Sun and its moons). Scientists will be able to interpret this data to understand the planet’s history, its interior structure and activity, and the forces that shaped planet formation in the inner solar system.

Let Dreams Take Flight This Summer During Space Center Houston’s Days of Elevation


Soar beyond boundaries this summer at Space Center Houston during Days of Elevation. As a leading science and space exploration learning center, Space Center Houston offers family fun, interactive educational activities and a launch pad for adventure.

“If you’ve dreamed of flying, come get a bird’s-eye view of the future of flight in our new summer exhibit, blast off in a Mars simulator and camp out under the stars with us,” said William T. Harris, the nonprofit’s president and CEO. “Space Center Houston has something for everyone.”


Soar with the Future of Flight at Space Center Houston’s New Summer Exhibit


Space Center Houston announces its new summer exhibit Above and Beyond, set to give guests a high-flying experience into the future of aerospace technology April 21-Sept. 9.

“Earn your wings and discover the innovations that bring flight to life,” said the center’s President and CEO William T. Harris. “Become a part of the future of flight and pilot your own mission in an immersive aerospace experience.”


Lawrence a little-known astronaut pioneer

A year before the Civil Rights Act was signed into law and the same year Thurgood Marshall became the first African American appointed to the Supreme Court, Robert Henry Lawrence made history of his own. In June 1967, Lawrence became the first black astronaut when he was selected by the Air Force as part of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) program.

Tragedy smudged Lawrence’s place in history, as the Air Force pilot was killed six months later in a plane crash at Edwards Air Force Base in California. History waited another 16 years before seeing the first black astronaut in space, but Lawrence will always be remembered for paving the way.

Lawrence graduated from Bradley University at age 20 in 1956, where he was a cadet in an Air Force ROTC program. He became a pilot a year later and was an instructor on the T-33 training aircraft by 25. Four years later, Lawrence earned a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Ohio State.

In all, Lawrence accumulated 2,500 flight hours, including testing the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. At the 50th anniversary memorial ceremony NASA held for Lawrence in 2017, former NASA Administrator Charles Bolden gave Lawrence credit for developing a steep-descent glide technique that made the Space Shuttle Program possible.

“He was involved in development of the maneuver that would become a critical part of space shuttle landing techniques called ‘flare,'” Bolden said.

Fourteen African-American women and men have flown into space since Lawrence was selected for the MOL program. Here’s a quick spotlight on some of their achievements.

Guion Bluford – Selected as an astronaut in August 1979, Bluford is a veteran of four spaceflights, becoming the first African American in space when he flew on STS-8 in 1983.

Ronald McNair – Selected as an astronaut in 1978, McNair tragically lost his life in the Challenger disaster in 1986. It was McNair’s second mission, after flying on STS-41-B in 1984.

Charles Bolden – The 12th Administrator of NASA, Bolden was the first African American to head the agency when he was nominated in 2009. Bolden was selected as an astronaut in 1980, flew on four space missions before leaving the Astronaut Corps to return to the Marine Corps.

Mae Jemison – Jemison became the first African-American woman in space when she flew aboard STS 41 in 1992. The engineer, physician and astronaut holds nine honorary degrees. She also once appeared on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Leland Melvin – Selected as an astronaut in 1998, Melvin flew on two shuttle missions. He was on STS-122 in 2008 and STS-129 in 2009. His official NASA portrait is notable because Melvin appears in it with his two dogs, both rescues, named Jake and Scout.

Operation Restoration is Underway


Space Center Houston’s mission to help restore NASA’s Historic Mission Control began in January with a major phase of the restoration to restore the flight control consoles used by the NASA flight controllers to manage the first missions to the moon.

The first set of flight control consoles was shipped out to be restored at the Cosmosphere International SciEd Center & Space Museum in Hutchinson, Kansas.

NASA historians interviewed flight directors as part of the process to their research to ensure the historical of the consoles and to learn how they reacted to the consoles.

The City of Webster has been key to this project, donating the initial $3.5 million and matching the first $400,000 in private donations from the nonprofit’s successful Kickstarter campaign.

The historic room will be recreated to look like it did in the Apollo era. Led by NASA Johnson Space Center, the effort will restore not only the flight control consoles, but will reactivate wall displays with projections of the Apollo-era. It will focus on all five areas of Mission Control to accurately portray how the area looked the moment the first moon landing occurred on July 20, 1969.

The restoration is set to be completed by the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 in July 2019.

Support is still needed to help finish this project and provide extraordinary learning opportunities for generations to come. You can be a part of the mission to restore Historic Mission Control.