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Stepping back in time: Mission control refurbished to the day Apollo 11 astronauts stepped foot on the Moon

By Brian Lada, AccuWeather meteorologist and staff writer
July 21, 2019, 11:13:29 AM EDT

“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

Those were the first words spoken by Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong, relaying to NASA that he and fellow astronaut Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin had safely and successfully landed their spacecraft on the surface of another world.

This message was transmitted to NASA’s mission control, based in the Johnson Space Center just outside of Houston, Texas.

Mission control manages all of NASA’s spaceflight activity and served as the point of communication for astronauts through the Apollo missions and part of the Space Shuttle era. Over the years, the technology became outdated and a new mission control had to be constructed elsewhere in the building, leaving this important spot in NASA’s history to fall into disrepair.

However, a recent effect was made to refurbish the original mission control in Houston to look nearly identical to the day when humans first set foot on the moon.

mission control side by side

These side-by-side images show what mission control looks like today (left) compared to what it did during the Apollo program (right). (Left Photo:AccuWeather/Brian Lada, Right Photo:NASA)

“In 2015, NASA officials worked with the National Park Service to develop the “Historic Furnishings Report and Visitor Experience Plan” that served as the key planning document for the restoration,” Space Center Houston explained on their website.

This was a painstaking process that took years to ensure that no detail was overlooked, down to the fibers in the carpet. The project was only recently completed and open to the public on June 28, 2019, less than one month before the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing.

Partial view of activity in the Mission Operations Control Room in the Mission Control Center at the time the Apollo 14 S-IVB stage impacted on the lunar surface. (Photo/NASA)

The refurbished mission control. (AccuWeather Photo/Brian Lada)

Overall view of activity in the Mission Operations Control Room in the Mission Control Center, Building 30, on the first day of the Apollo 10 lunar orbit mission. (Photo/NASA)

A cloe-up look at one of the computer desks in the refurbished mission control. (AccuWeather Photo/Brian Lada)

Partial view of activity in the Mission Operations Control Room in the Mission Control Center, Building 30, on the first day of the Apollo 10 lunar orbit mission. (Photo/NASA)

Apollo flight commander Gene Kranz standing at his refurbished desk on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. (AccuWeather Photo/Brian Lada)

Flight director Eugene F. Kranz is seated at his console in the mission operations control room in the Manned Spacecraft Center's Mission Control Center on the morning of the launch of the Apollo 16 lunar landing mission. (Photo/NASA)

Computer monitors and a flight manual in the refurbished mission control (AccuWeather Photo/Brian Lada)

Discussion in the Mission Operations Control Room (MOCR) dealing with the Apollo 13 crewmen during their final day in space. (Photo/NASA)

A pack of cigarettes next to a headset on a desk in mission control (AccuWeather Photo/Brian Lada)

Stepping into this room today is like stepping back in time. Everything in mission control is exactly how it was back in the age of Apollo, including the displays on the monitors, the empty coffee mugs sitting at the work stations, the images on the large television screens at the front of the room, the coats hanging in the corner and even the flight manuals, some of which being the original copies.

A few of the ash trays throughout mission control even have cigarette butts that were found while renovating the room that date back to when people were working in mission control during the Apollo missions.

The only big difference is that it no longer smells like cigarette and cigar smoke, Tim Hall told AccuWeather. Hall was a flight controller for many space shuttle flights and is currently serving as the Chief of the Extravehicular Activity (EVA) Operations Branch.

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One element of the impressive recreation that stands out from the rest is the bouquet of roses on display near the front of the room.

“That’s interesting. That is [from] a family out of Dallas,” Hall said.

“Without asking, every time that we’d have a manned mission, they would send flowers to the control center. They started showing up and they weren’t sure what to do with them, so they keep them on console, and they like them so much that it became a tradition. In fact, if they’re not here we get worried like it’s a jinx. It’s been so long that it’s been passed down through the family,” Hall explained.

“We finally found out who the family is and actually brought them in and visited, but for a while the flowers just showed up and it was a nice thing to do,” he continued. “You’ll see to this day, we’ve had the flowers come into the International Space Station room.”

flowers in mission control

A bouquet of roses in the refurbished mission control on July 20, 2019, the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. (AccuWeather Photo/Brian Lada)

The restoration of this National Historic Landmark could not have been completed without help from the community and people across the world interested in preserving the facility for generations to come.

“In 2016, Space Center Houston launched a $5 million campaign to fund this important effort. The nearby City of Webster, Texas, was home to many of the flight controllers, engineers, scientists and other Apollo-program personnel during the heyday of Apollo. In early 2017, the City of Webster stepped forward with a lead gift of $3.1 million for the campaign,” Space Center Houston explained on their website.

Additionally, a Kickstarter campaign raised over $500,000, more than doubling the original goal.

This newly renovated historic site is open to the public for those who are traveling to Houston to visit the NASA facilities.

In addition to holding a special place in the history of NASA, mission control is unlike any other place in the world.

“As far as we can tell, we’re the only place like this where we have a National Historic Landmark inside an operational facility,” Hall said.

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