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Tips for Visiting NASA Space Center Houston
The NASA Space Center is actually about 25 miles Southeast of downtown Houston, so plan for that travel time. There's a lot to do, so I would get there when they open (normally 10am, but always check ahead). BUY YOUR TICKETS AHEAD ONLINE at their website... http://www.spacecenter.org/ - you'll save $5 per ticket. The Center has a pretty large parking lot, but there is a fee that you'll have to pay when you leave.
Do I need to bring cash?
It never hurts to have some cash onhand...but all of the food vendors and parking lot accept credit/debit cards. There are vending machines, but they are even pricier than the vendors. Some "rides" had an extra price ($4-$8) on them, but I'm not sure how you pay for those.
The Center has a very thorough brochure that they hand you when you enter. It has start times and lengths for the exhibits - and they ARE accurate. The tram tour IS 1 1/2 hours with several stops. And there are waiting lines the later in the day you wait. However, it is really cool and worth the time. I would bring a drink since it lasts so long, and make sure to bring a non-phone camera to use when in the Mission Control buidling - cell phones have to be turned off and you'll miss photo ops! You will also visit the astronaut training area and a Saturn V rocket.
In order to see the Museum section of the Space Center, you have to watch a short film. As soon as it came on my kids groaned and said, "This is a grown-up movie!" However, it was short and it kept their attention, as it wasn't a dry, filled-with-facts presentation, but more of a montage of key moments in U.S. Space History. The Museum area is worth the wait, as you see a lot of artifacts and can even touch a moon rock!
There are other movies to watch, but we skipped those...maybe when they're older...
Another exhibit I wanted to go into but didn't because of the kids was Blast Off. It sounded pretty loud and I didn't think they'd appreciate the sensation of taking off in a rocket. Once again, maybe next time...
The Living in Space demonstration and the hands on interactive section in the middle of the Center were extremely interesting.
As I mentioned before, there are several "rides" that cost extra, but looked pretty cool.
NO OUTSIDE FOOD OR DRINK!
That's right...no outside food or drink. They have a security checkpoint where they look through any bag you bring, so there's no sneaking anything in. The only work around I can think of is to bring an empty container that you can fill at the water fountain. If you want something with flavor, you could get those single serving powders and keep them in your pocket when going through security. The food area actually has several different types of food and they do accept debit/credit cards. I can only think of 2 ways to avoid the higher priced food. 1 - Pack a picnic, leave it in the car and go to your car for a meal. 2 - there are a few eateries close to the Space Center. A few you could walk to, and even if you have to drive, you will not have to pay twice for parking. I guess a third option would be to eat a lot before you go and wait til you're done.
How young is too young for the Space Center?
I went with a 4 and 7 year old. They were both entertained for the whole time we were there - 5 hours. There is a HUGE play area that the kids can get lost in...don't worry, there are video cameras set up so you can find your wee one in the tower of tunnels. Most of the exhibits were ok for my kids. I didn't go to a few because I didn't think the kids would appreciate feeling g-forces. We went on the 1 1/2 hour tram tour, and while they were ok, it did border on too long. I think the IDEAL time to go with kids would be when they're 9 and up.
Personally, I could easily have spent 2 days at the Space Center. Unfortunately, I didn't have the time...this time.