Hi, race fans. Although things didn’t work out to our expectations in Houston last weekend, I was able to do something that I’ve always wanted to do — tour Johnson Space Center.
Since I was a kid, I’ve always been fascinated with space shuttles, Apollo 13, and landing on the moon. When ESPN invited me to tour Johnson Space Center, it was something I just couldn’t say no to.
I was thrilled to have had the opportunity to go on the tour because not only was it meeting the people, it also was seeing the history of space exploration. What amazes me is their aspirations of the future and what they want to achieve. It’s so motivating.
”What a place to work!” was a comment that I said to a lot of the employees. Imagine waking up every morning and working on projects that send people to the moon and outer space. We had the opportunity to meet a couple of the astronauts and had a couple of them out to the racetrack. Both of them, Scott Kelly and Mark Kelly (brothers), had flown multiple missions in space. Scott is heading to the space station for six months this time next year.
It was truly an honor to meet the astronauts and everybody that worked at the space center. They told us about their missions, and I was amazed. Their bravery is just incredible.
While on the tour, we saw the inside of the shuttle and where the astronauts live on missions as short as two weeks or as long as six months. These men and women are just incredibly brave, and it was very motivating just to be around them. Their stories were just amazing, both of the missions and the behind-the-scenes stories about what goes on in the space shuttle. I couldn’t believe what they were telling me. Things like how you go to sleep at night, and if you get sick in space, and simple things like just going to the bathroom, and how complicated a task becomes. It was an amazing experience.
I had an opportunity to put on 3D virtual reality goggles; when you open your eyes, you’re in space. It is unbelievable how realistic it was. You can look down and see Earth and look to your left and you see the guy next to you and you’re navigating on the outside of the space station. Astronauts use that exact same protocol so they don’t lose their way, because there is no up and there is no down in a zero-gravity environment. They use that just so they know how to navigate around the space station when they have to repair things when they get to certain places.
After we toured the space center, it was the astronauts’ turn to tour our world of drag racing. We invited them out to the track on Friday and Saturday and brought them up to the starting line. One of the astronauts could not believe the energy and said that it reminded him of being in the shuttle when feeling that power.
We kind of joked between the two of us. I asked him, ‘How long does it take you to get to 300 miles per hour?’ He said, “20 seconds.” I said, “Well, I’ve got you beat.” Then he asked, “Bob, how long does it take you to get to 17,000 miles an hour?” And I said, “Now you’ve got me beat.” It was very opposite, the dynamics between the two vessels. I have all the respect for them, and they had a new-found respect for what we do.
It was a blast. We made some really good friends on this trip. Next year, they’re going to give us an even more behind-the-scenes tour. We might go up in a zero-gravity flight and experience weightlessness or as close to what the astronauts experience in space. We made a lot of friends.
I spent some time with Paul Page getting in and out of the space shuttle and sitting in the cockpit. I’m going to stick to driving Funny Cars and leave the space missions to the astronauts. It was a pretty neat experience.
See you at the track!