Level 9 tour of the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Somewhat more expensive than the usual museum+bus tour entrance fee, but the sights are a little more... special

First port of call on a stormy Texan morning, though, was outside the museum building, accessible to the more "normal" visitors - one of the retired SCA (Shuttle Carrier Aircraft), with a Shuttle mock-up atop. This one was formerly at KSC, before the retirement of Atlantis.

What most visitors miss, however, is the helpful little note on the attachment points:

Then its onto the minibus, with the other 8-10 tour guests, and away from JSC for a 20 min drive out to here: the Sonny Carter Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL), training ground for all NASA EVA activities, with a complete mock-up of all modules installed on the ISS.

After a short stop here, we're back on the bus and back to JSC for a tour of the only fully flightworthy Saturn V in existence. But everyone knows what a Saturn V looks like, so on with the juicier bits.

Next stop - spacecraft mockup facility, where the crews train for time spent on the ISS:

Like the NBL, the facility hosts a precise 1:1 replica of all the modules presently installed on ISS, alongside trainers for Soyuz, the Shuttle and, in progress, module fit-out and ergonomic planning for the Orion capsule:

Last stop on the tour - Building 30. Home of:

MCC for the ISS, sharing operations with their Russian and European counterparts but for the most part, this is where the ISS nerve centre is located. (The lady on the right of the image, in the white top and sitting at Capcom, is Tracy Caldwell Dyson, ex STS-118 and Soyuz TMA-18) Then, we're though a rather unassuming, plain grey door:

And out onto the floor of FCR-2, more often called MOCR-2. Or, to the man on the street, just "Mission Control"....

This room oversaw all manned spaceflights from Gemini 3, through Apollo 8, 11, 12, 13 etc, and many of the Shuttle flights up to STS-53, including the ill-fated last flight of Challenger on STS-51-L. Hallowed ground indeed, and a real atmosphere in the room, hanging heavy with the history of everything that happened in here....

The US flag in the corner was in place for every flown mission from MOCR-2, except one - it left the room to travel to the surface of the moon on Apollo 17, returning with a plaque of gratitude from all the Apollo crews and the back-up "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon" plaque from the leg of the Apollo 11 lunar lander.

Not actually on the Level 9 tour, but visited by the "normal" bus tour, the viewing gallery of MOCR-2, where visiting dignitaries would watch the goings-on. Front row was for astronaut families and very special guests. HM The Queen sat front row, third seat in from the right...

Not the usual NASA bus tour by any means, and certainly at a premium price, but worth every cent to get right in there with the history of the early US space programme...