The glow of Christmas tree lights, neon tunnels, s’mores station fire pits and interactive ground displays greet visitors to Galaxy Lights. The twinkling planetary lined paths, astrological signs and historic aircraft on display give the space educational event an extra dose of magic.
Galaxy Lights are a festive addition to the nonprofit space museum, Space Center Houston, the Official Visitor Center of NASA Johnson Space Center and home to Mission Control and astronaut training. The museum guides visitors into a large room with much to explore. There is a grid of floating orb lights in the room’s center whose colors and movements are timed with instrumental rock songs by artists like Queen. Visitors of all ages lie on the floor underneath and enjoy watching the orbs floating above and around them like waves of stars in the sky.
Little ones’ eyes are filled with wonder as they run through the field of illuminated dots imagining their own constellations. The awe and allure of space travel fills everyone’s minds as they look up at the historic space shuttle we are about to tour.
Before heading outdoors, tourists can spend at least an hour walking through the interactive displays, learning about historic Apollo missions, the future Artemis Program and so much more. In Greek mythology, Artemis is Apollo’s twin sister, which is fitting as Artemis is NASA’s current mission to send the first woman and person of color to the moon. There have been a total of 24 astronauts who walked on the moon, but none have returned since 1972. NASA and SpaceX, among others, aim to change that.
My kids’ favorite activity was a chair they climbed up in that had a timed laser pointed at two docking stations on the moon. The goal was to hit each docking station target within 30 seconds with the joystick controls on each chair arm. During Galaxy Lights, we did this moon mission game many, many times in a row and came back for more between the other exhibits. Also among the favorite displays was the Coke bottle rocket. This rocket is fueled by air pressure created by cranking a wheel and pressing a big red button to launch the rocket.
After tinkering with everything they could get their hands on, we made our way outside to Independence Plaza to play. We toured the Boeing 905 and the shuttle replica, walked the path of planets, made s’mores and had our picture taken on the moon. We marveled at SpaceX’s Falcon 9 booster and learned how its reusable spacecraft technology is revolutionizing space travel. The kids ran and ran over the illuminated, interactive dots on the ground and loved running through the tunnels. Of course, we spent a fair amount of time in the gift shop as well, which has an extensive selection of shirts, toys and STEM gifts. All in all, it was a really fun way to spend an evening for the adults as well as the kids. It also gave my parents an opportunity to talk about the moon landing and their experiences growing up during a space race. My kids learned how they, too, are part of a new space race. I was really impressed by the focus on girls in STEM, not just through the Artemis mission, but throughout NASA’s educational programing as well.
During our four-day stay in Houston, two of my kids participated in the Space University three-day workshop, one as an age four Explorer and one as an age 12 Space U student. My youngest, although intimidated by a new place at first, came home after day one saying it was the “best day ever!” and my son, upon completion of the program’s graduation ceremony, beamed from ear to ear with pride over his accomplishment. They had fun, they learned a ton and their (and my!) eyes opened to all kinds of new opportunities, new ideas, ambition and wonder. NASA has accomplished its goal; mission inspiration is now complete.