The eagle has landed

Here's what you should look out for in Houston during Space City Month

Houston is celebrating 50 years since the Apollo moon landing. Here are somethings you can expect to see in Houston during Space City Month. Photo via NASA.gov

Fifty years ago, NASA sent a crew of astronauts to the moon and back while a team controlled the mission from the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

In honor of this history-making experience, the Space City is playing host to Space City Month this July, and it's a time to recognize the science and sacrifice it took to put man on the moon, as well as look forward to the future of NASA and space exploration.

Restored Apollo 11 mission control center

Photo via NASA.gov

Ever wonder what it was like to be in the room where it happened — where Neil Armstrong radioed in to give his famous, "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" statement? Now you can.

Space Center Houston has restored the mission control center where dozens of professionals kept watch and records over the astronauts making their harrowing journey. The exhibit just opened, and visitors can sign up for free tickets.

The restoration has been years in the making. Retired mission control experts contributed to the exhibit and the efforts were even funded by a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $500,000.

Special NASA programming

The video and audio coverage were an incredible component for the Apollo missions to deliver to an earthly audience. Now, celebrating 50 years, NASA's bringing back the special programming.

From noon to 2 pm on July 19, the organization will broadcast live from NASA's newly-restored Apollo mission control room at Johnson Space Center in Houston, along with a couple other historic locations like the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, the Smithsonian National Air, and the Space Museum in Washington.

Watch the show on something that wasn't available in 1969: The internet. More specifically, find the stream on the NASA Live page.

InnovationMap interviews with space innovators

Tim Kopra

Tim Kopra spent over 244 days in space, and now he's using his tech background to invest in emerging energy companies. Courtesy of Tim Kopra

Much like we did for Pride Month, our Featured Innovator section — where we run weekly innovator interviews — will be taken over by a special series. Four different interviews with four different space innovators will be published on Wednesdays for the rest of the month.

Can't wait until Wednesday? Check out this interview we did with an astronaut turned venture capital investor, Tim Kopra. He spent a career total of 244 days in space before re-entering earth's orbit and civilian life. As different as his career is now compared to life in space, he actually sees a similarity.

"On face value, it may sound like an odd match, taking someone with a tech and operational background and putting them in venture, but quite frankly it feels very familiar to me because my career has really been focused on working on complex technology and operations with very small teams," Kopra tells InnovationMap in the article. "It's not just a theoretical understanding of the technology, but understanding how to use the technology and how it works."

Commercial space technology is being developed at this moment, and Arturo Machuca wants to make sure the Houston Spaceport is ready for the technology when it's finished. Courtesy of the Houston Airport System

In 2015, Houston became the 10th licensed spaceport in the United States. Now, four years later, it's Arturo Machuca's job as general manager of the Houston Spaceport and Ellington Airport to guide the institution from idea into reality.

Ellington Airport and the Houston Spaceport are co-located just 15 miles outside of downtown Houston and just north of the Johnson Space Center. While major players in commercial space exploration develop the technology for space travel, Machuca and his team at the Houston Airport Systems are working to build Houston's Spaceport to be ready for that technology when it arrives.

Machuca spoke with InnovationMap for the final installment of this month's space-focused interviews in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing.

InnovationMap: Tell me a little bit about your career to date. 

Arturo Machuca: I am a very fortunate man in that I have had the chance to be involved in this project that's so relevant to the city of Houston. My background has been in aviation for 38 years. I've worked 21 years in commercial aviation. I've also worked in air service development, working with airlines to add new routes to and from Houston. I've worked in corporate aviation as well.

Now past 10 years since July 2009 been with the Houston Airport System. I was first based at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport, then in 2012 I was fortunate enough to work with director Mario Diaz on the inception of the spaceport plans. In 2015, we became the 10th commercial spaceport in the nation.

It's been so much fun. It's so good to come to work where you get to say, "I'm having fun with this."

IM: With the Houston Spaceport being only the 10th licensed in the United States, has it been challenging laying the groundwork?

AM: There has been some challenges in that we are adapting our infrastructure to serve as the commercial space, including very in depth due diligence. But at the same time, it's been easy because of the fact that we are distinguished amongst other spaceports. We are the only truly urban spaceport in the world, which makes it easier from my perspective. Plus, we are the home to Johnson Space Center and a number of space companies based here. While challenging, it's been very good to have those things on our side.

IM: What’s the big picture goal of the Houston Spaceport?

AM: Our goal will be to one day connect Houston to the world by commercial spaceflight. Companies like Virgin Galactic are developing their technology for point-to-point transportation, or space flight. We have no control over that — it's up to them. In the meantime, we continue to take advantage of existing structure and turning it into the spaceport. We use what we already have at Ellington Airport. We're serving aviation today until commercial spaceflight gets here.

IM: The Spaceport just broke ground on Phase I of the transformation. What are the priorities for that initiative?

AM: We have nearly 1,000 acres of land that we can develop. Our vision is to create a cluster of aerospace and aviation companies that allow for us to get to space in a quicker fashion. We have chosen four major areas of development to focus on phase one of the spaceport: drones, micro satellites, aviation and commercial spaceflight, and data and analytics. We're building the neighborhood, if you will, so that companies can come and set up on our land.

We've been working with universities, and about a month ago we just announced the Edge workforce training center where San Jacinto College will train students to support the industry.

IM: The spaceport has quite a few educational partners. Why has that been such a core component to the project?

AM: About 2.5 years ago we were working with a proposal to work with Blue Origin — a company owned by Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon. Blue Origin was looking for a location to build their rocket engine, and we thought the Houston Spaceport was the perfect place. The process took a little over a year, and I am proud to say that we made it to the final two cities. We were competing with Huntsville, Alabama, which is known as Rocket City. We didn't win, but when we went back and asked for feedback, they said that Huntsville offered a tremendous amount of educational support. We clearly realized that it's important to have that direct connection.

IM: What’s Houston’s future role in space?

AM: I think that Houston is poised for success because of the existing components we already have in place, like the Johnson Space Center. The city of Houston is working very closely with the JSC to make sure we remain mission relevant.

Pushing into commercial space flight, I believe that Houston is poised for a tremendous future. We are learning to better coordinate with the players on the government side and the private industry. I envision Houston becoming even a stronger player in the next 50 years because of the development and the growth of assets. I can see us serving as a city where we take passengers from one end of the world to the others using commercial space flight.

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Portions of this interview have been edited.