For those of us old enough to remember, in our mind’s eyes we all know the look of that place, Mission Control at Houston’s NASA Space Center, where a team of talented men and women guided the Apollo spacecraft through the black of space, from orbiting earth to successfully landing on the moon, multiple times. The monochrome displays, the low-fi video displays on the giant screen in the dimly lit tiered room, the rotary dial phones—they paint a picture of a special place in time that was our connection from here on Earth to every step along the way in what was one of the most important achievements in human history.
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What happened after that era, well, we know a lot less about that part, and that might be a good thing. As time went by and technology advanced, the Center was given numerous “upgrades,” and the look and feel of the original was lost. The incredibly crafted command center was designed by Charles Luckman, a gifted architect and toothpaste magnate, who died 20 years ago and who was also responsible for some regrettable projects, including the Penn Station catastrophe. Luckily, Luckman had a lot of help with the Command Center in the person of Chris Kraft, who almost single-handedly invented the NASA command-control concept and also behind the creation of the place where it would happen. NASA’s Mission Control today is named after Kraft. The giant in space exploration died in July of this year, two days after the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing.
Design-wise, the Center was done in what was known as the international style, which is an industrial take on the post mid-century design school. It was a masterpiece. But over time its teal and taupe pallet was replaced by orange upholstery and ’70s shag, so it’s probably a good thing we don’t remember. And after a course of several “upgrades,” the original beauty of the Center, an historical landmark since 1985, was lost.
That was until several years ago, a group of private and government organizations got together to recreate it. And did they ever nail it. Completed in June of this year, the Center’s restoration—they used every bit of the original equipment that remained—took five years and cost $5 million. The work displays a level of love and attention to detail that brings you right back to those heady days when those controllers were working, hand in space glove, with the astronauts speeding through the blackness of the heavens above. After more than 50 years now, we are still in awe.
Click here to watch the video and through the photos below to see the restored mission control.
Here's a photograph of Mission Control as it appeared when it was shiny and new. It still looks state of the art, but the magic was accomplished using equipment far less powerful than the processors in the watches we wear today. Photo by NASA