Apollo Mission Control Center restored to its former glory

Posted at 8:21 AM, Jun 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-28 11:53:55-04

The Apollo Mission Control Center once buzzed with excitement as flight controllers communicated with the first astronauts to orbit the Earth, land on the moon and pilot shuttles. It’s where dedicated experts oversaw operations for each mission, hour by hour.

During the countless, tense hours at the dawn of human space exploration, Mission Control was the heart of NASA. It’s been the backdrop for applause as the impossible was achieved, as well as tears when tragic defeat struck.

But since 1992, the rooms that bore witness to so many awe-inspiring moments at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston have fallen silent. They were used as Mission Control for the Gemini, Apollo, Apollo/Soyuz, Skylab and Space Shuttle program missions.

Mission Control includes the Mission Operations Control Room. It contains the iconic consoles, the visitors’ viewing room where family members of the astronauts could see what was happening, the simulation control room for tests and simulations to solve error messages and problems, and the “bat cave” behind the screens containing the projectors.

In 1985, the National Park Service designated the room a National Historic Landmark. It was renamed for Christopher C. Kraft Jr. in 2018 to honor the man responsible for pioneering human spaceflight control concepts.

Over the years, tours took their toll on the historic room.

Just in time for the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, the Apollo Mission Control Center has been restored. The room looks just like it did during the days of the Apollo program.

“Apollo captured the world’s attention and demonstrated the power of America’s vision and technology, which has inspired generations of great achievements in space exploration, and scientific discovery,” said Johnson’s Director Mark Geyer. “Our goal 50 years ago was to prove we could land humans on the Moon and return them safely to Earth. Our goal now is to return to the Moon to stay, in a sustainable way. I’m thrilled this facility will be open for the public to view. It is my hope that it will serve as inspiration for generations to come.”

Partial restorations happened over the years. But five years of fundraising and planning led up to the beginning of the full restoration project starting in 2017; $5 million was needed for the project. Space Center Houston, the official visitor center for Johnson, helped raise the money. Webster, a nearby city in Texas, donated $3.5 million to the cause. NASA can’t accept public donations for this purpose.

“Thanks to the city of Webster and worldwide support, the treasured landmark is now restored, preserving it for future generations,” said William Harris, president and CEO of Space Center Houston. “We can gain incredible insight through the accomplishments of the Apollo era and the room will continue to inspire people and innovators to chase their dreams.”

Original members of the Apollo Mission Control teams were on the restoration team, making sure that the room was completely restored to exactly how they remembered it. Twenty-five flight controllers were interviewed about their memories.

Some of the pieces within the room, simulation support room and accompanying visitor’s gallery are original artifacts that have been restored. Other pieces were based on original samples and recreated, like paint and carpet — even details including coffee mugs, items of clothing and ashtrays.

Finding examples of what to recreate wasn’t easy. The room has been re-carpeted and re-wallpapered before. Some of the original carpet was found beneath the pneumatic tube station, which was still in place, and a carpet company was able to analyze the color and pattern to recreate it. The original wallpaper was found behind a fire extinguisher mounted on the wall and recreated.

Pictures taken during the Apollo era in Mission Control helped the original team members recall where each item was placed.

Papers and maps will be scattered around. Black SKILCRAFT cross binders will sit on the desks. Old coats and jackets will be hanging on the coat racks.

The room itself will be “alive,” the restoration team said. Clocks on the wall will match up with the map tracing the lunar landing in 1969. CBS footage of the landing will play in the visitor’s gallery. Video of Neil Armstrong stepping on the moon will appear as it did for the flight controllers.

When visitors walk in the room, the restoration team wants them to believe they’re entering Mission Control on July 20, 1969. Sights and sound of the day the first man landed on the moon, including the chatter of flight controllers, will fill the space.

“By restoring the Apollo Mission Control Center, NASA is preserving the rich history of a remarkable achievement in human spaceflight,” said Restoration Project Manager Jim Thornton. “This will not only help share our history with visitors from around the world, but also remind our current employees who are planning missions to send humans back to the Moon and then further to Mars, that anything is possible and we are standing on the shoulders of giants.”