After a multi-year restoration effort, NASA’s Apollo Mission Operations Control Room 2 (MOCR 2) is set to re-open to the public next week, as part of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. For two years, a team of historians and engineers have worked to rebuild the iconic consoles, decorations, and monitors that mission controllers saw as they guided astronauts through the first manned exploration of space during this critical early era.
As the AP reports, the effort got a seal of approval from one of the heavyweights in the Apollo era — retired engineer, flight director, and later director of NASA flight operations Gene Kranz.
“When I sit down here and I’m in the chair at the console … I hear these words, ‘Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed,’” Kranz said to the AP during a sneak preview at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. “It’s just nice to see the thing come alive again.”
The restoration effort has spared no level of detail, replacing the carpet, chairs, decorations, and even the ashtrays and coffee cups that characterized Mission Control during its heyday. The room had been used through the 1990s for space shuttle flights, then retired and opened to tourists. Nearly 50 years after Apollo 11, however, it wasn’t in the best of shape, and a grassroots effort to restore it began in 2017, raising $ 5M from activists and contributors across the nation, including a $ 3.5M grant from the city of Webster. Carpet tiles and upholstery samples were located and flight directors and staff were interviewed for details on what the facility looked like. When original material couldn’t be found, hand-crafted materials were substituted to recreate them.
The AMA with the historic reconstruction team is rather interesting and includes some lucky breaks for how they were able to source certain material, for example. Sandra Tetley, the Johnson Space Center Historic Preservation Officer, writes: “We found original wallpaper under a fire extinguisher and went back to original drawings and found the company who had been purchased and that company had the original roller! We were able to reproduce the wallpaper for the MCC!”
The consoles originally used CRTs, but these have been stealth-replaced with LCDs to mimic what they showed, even if a different display technology is now in use to show it. Visitors who tour the MOCR “will be treated to as an “as-it-happened” recreation of the Apollo 11 landing,” according to Paul Konyha, current flight director of NASA. “The displays and consoles show the exact data and information that was seen on July 20, 1969. It is accompanied by the actual audio of the flight control team in the MOCR and their communications with the astronauts. The only thing missing are the flight controllers themselves. It is an immersive experience that takes you back in time 50 years to witness one of the greatest accomplishments in human history,” Konyha wrote on Reddit.
It’s a testament to the restoration crew’s ingenuity and dedication that we have this facility to tour on the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing — and a testament to how much our exploration of space has flagged that we have no equivalent anniversaries to look forward to in the future. Hopefully, by the time Apollo 11 is celebrating its 100 birthday, it’ll have been joined by at least a Mars mission of equivalent success.
Feature image by NASA