Johnson Space Center – Post 2 of 2

The main reason I stopped in Houston during my early 2017 “Texas Loop” was to visit NASA’s Johnson Space Center.  When manned missions were launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Mission Control there managed the events until the spacecraft achieved orbit around the Earth.  The remainder of the flight was managed by Mission Control here at JSC.

One of the more impressive items on display was a full-size Saturn V rocket.  The Saturn V (5), designed by Wernher von Braun and Arthur Rudolph, launched all of the Apollo moon missions as well as Skylab, the first American space station.



Above is a photo of the first stage.  Below are the 5 F-1 engines capable of producing over 1.5 million pounds of thrust (each!) for a total of 7.5 million pounds.  To this day they are still the most powerful liquid-propellent rocket engines ever built.


I will be telling a story about these engines when I post photos from my visit to the NASA facility in Alabama where these were tested.

Here is the second stage, with 5 smaller engines:


And finally, the third stage with just one engine. This engine was initially fired to get the vehicle to full orbit around the Earth.  By the time this stage kicked in the vehicle had gained considerable altitude, was traveling at very considerable speed and required much less energy to achieve orbit. This engine was later fired a second time to remove the vehicle from Earth orbit and send it on it’s way to the moon.


On top of the third stage was a cone-shaped section which contained the lunar lander.


Finally, a can-shaped service module (gray in this photo) which contained fuel and other equipment to get the spacecraft back to Earth and the command module (brown in this photo) which the astronauts rode in.  At initial launch there was an emergency thruster (escape module, white in this photo) attached to the top of the command module in case it needed to be jettisoned for safety in the event of a launch failure.  The command module itself only had tiny “thrusters” to maneuver it in space and they wouldn’t have had nearly enough energy to get the command module away from the rocket at launch.


Here is look back down from the “top”


There are only three full-size Saturn V displays in the world.  This is the only one made completely of flight-certified hardware.  The other two displays contain a mix of flight hardware, mockups and test components.

Roadside Art in Houston

While driving in the Houston area I saw these huge metal art works along side the highway.




To give you some idea how big these are, the fishing pole in the photo above snagged a full size pickup truck…




The wheels look kind of goofy but this stealth fighter was still pretty impressive:


I didn’t see any signs indicating who created these works of art.

Rice University campus, Houston

The beautiful, largely symmetrical Mediterranean Revival and Byzantine styles of architecture on this campus were brought to my attention by a photo in the “36 Hours” series of articles and books published by the New York Times.  While in Houston I decided to visit the campus and see it for myself.








The Beer Can House

When I arrived in Houston, Texas in the late afternoon of May 13, 2017 the first place I stopped was at this quirky tourist attraction.  A man named John Milkovisch lived in this house with his wife Mary.  Mr. Milkovisch, shown below, claimed to have consumed over 39,000 cans of beer during his lifetime (he died in 1988).  After his death his wife remained in the house until a few years before her death in 2002.


While the house isn’t actually built with beer cans an estimated 50,000 cans, bottles, caps, pull-tabs, labels, coasters, 12-pack boxes, etc. adorn the walls and are formed into facades and pieces of art which hang throughout the property.











The inside of the house was pretty normal (Mary wouldn’t let him display beer cans in the house) although he did convert the lawn to concrete – he was tired of mowing – and his wife created some other forms of metal art for the property.

They had photos of other quirky tourist attractions located in other parts of the country in one room, two of which will be venues I have visited and will appear in future posts.

Texas World Speedway

When I left Branson, Missouri in May of 2017 I headed south towards Texas.  I actually drove southeast on some beautiful scenic roads through central Arkansas and crossed into Louisiana where I would spend the night in Shreveport.  The next morning I drove further south on the west side of Louisiana and crossed over into Texas on Route 21 to the little town of Milam.  One of the interesting things I saw there was a road sign indicating that the distance to the next fairly big town was 19 miles and the distance to El Paso (on the other side of the state) was 860 miles!  They say everything is bigger in Texas and this made it clear that the lower portion of Texas is, indeed, very big.

From Milam I traveled west through Nacogdoches, then southwest to the town of Bryan.  A friend suggested I start including maps to illustrate the areas I refer to and I did look online last night to see if I could find a good map of eastern Texas but couldn’t find anything that wasn’t really cluttered.  At Bryan I turned left and started driving southeast towards my ultimate destination of Houston where I would be spending the next three nights.

Shortly after turning left on Route 6 in Bryan I came to College Station and shortly after that I saw a sign for Texas World Speedway, a now dormant racetrack.


I drove toward the facility thinking I’d be lucky if I could get to the fenceline and maybe get a picture of the back of the grandstands.  Much to my surprise the gate was open and there was someone at a small shed at the entrance who told me that the track was open and was hosting a group of motorcycle enthusiasts.  He had me sign a liability waiver, put a wristband on me and told me I could pretty much go anywhere I wanted except on pit road and on the track itself.



As I said, there were motorcycles on the track (look closely at the photo below)


It wasn’t a race but just practice for an upcoming event.  I spoke to one of the guys who was participating:


He had two bikes, the one he had just finished riding and another still on the trailer.

I was able to walk through the paddock area and up into the infield grandstands (well, an elevated viewing platform).  I didn’t own a digital camera at this point so the only photos I have were taken with my smartphone.

The cycles were riding on part of the main track as well as part of the road racing course which goes to areas both inside and outside the main oval:

TWS AerialShot

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TWS consisted mainly of a 2-mile oval, one of only 7 tracks in the US 2 miles or more in length.  TWS had it’s heyday from when it was built in 1969 until the final NASCAR and IndyCar races were run there in 1981. After that it continued to host SCCA (sports cars), motorcycle and other races, driving schools and car clubs (Porsche, etc), and could be rented by major race teams for testing.

NASCAR’s Greg Biffle ran the fastest stock car lap at TWS in 2009.  His fastest speedtrap speed was 218 mph and his overall average on that lap was 195 mph.  Jeff Andretti holds the then-record (though unofficial) open wheel car closed course speed of 234.5 mph in 1993 while testing for that year’s Indianapolis 500.  Both of those sessions occurred on the oval portion of the track.

I was at TWS in May 2017 but later that year Hurricane Harvey devastated southern Texas in general and Houston in particular with torrential rain which resulted in major flooding.  As part of the cleanup from that hurricane flooded vehicles were transported to TWS for storage.

TWS Harvey Storage

(Photo credit:

TWS HarveyStorage

(Photo credit:

When I was there in 2017 I read that the track facilities were to be demolished and the grounds used for a major housing development but now that all those vehicles are on the property I don’t know what the future holds for this large tract of land.