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Restoring Mission Control


As any of you from the greater Houston area will know, the Mission Control Center at the Johnson Space Center in Webster, TX has been restored.  Some of you who don't live in this area may not have heard much about this.

Photo above from Nasa.gov

The original Mission Control Center was built in the early 60's for the expanding space program that would put a man on the moon.  It's the Mission Control Center that we all saw on TV during any of those early space missions - the huge screen on one long wall with row upon row of work stations with monitors for all the men controlling the missions.  And, yes, it was almost exclusively men.

This control room was used for all nine Gemini missions (1965 - 1966), all Apollo missions (1963 - 1972) including the 12 manned missions and 21 space shuttle missions. It was actively used up through 1992.  In 1985 Mission Control was added to the US Register of Historic Places.  As the years wore on, Mission Control deteriorated and finally in 2015 the National Park Service listed the site as "threatened".

There was great interest in restoring Mission Control and between 2015 and it's reopening in June of 2019, there were lots of people working on it.  They wanted to bring it back to the way it looked in 1969 for the moon landing.  And right in time for the 50th anniversary!  That brings me to a great story as told by Mary Welch, a great weaver from our Houston weavers guild, Contemporary Handweavers of Houston.  This was published by CHH in our most recent newsletter and is reprinted here with their approval.  Here is what Mary has to say:

APOLLO MISSION CONTROL RESTORATION
CHAIR PROJECT 2019
MARY WELCH

In early January 2019, I received a call from Houston architect David Bucek who is part of the Apollo Mission Control Center Restoration Team at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. They needed fabric for 18 chairs that were to be part of exhibit and asked if I could help them.  They had the original Steelcase manufactured sample of the nylon fabric. This fabric is no longer manufactured. I assumed they would need many yards of wide fabric, so I thought I would be a consultant. I invited David to my home studio for our first meeting. I wanted them to get an idea of what was involved in weaving.   

After some discussion, I learned that the fabric only needed to be 21-22 inches wide. I mentioned that My Baby Wolf weaves 25 inches wide. Could I do it? I asked how the chairs would be used and was told they were for display, not daily use. Then I said that wool would be a better fiber to use than nylon. That was approved and I was hired to weave samples. 

Looking at my stash and my wool color cards, I thought I would first start locally to find the yarns. I was pleased to find that Tracy Kaestner, at her Lone Star Loom Room had yarns in the colors that closely matched the original. I used Venne 20/2 cotton in a silver grey, sett at 24 epi for the warp; Mora wool in black for the thin weft and Tuna 2/8 wool in a brown and in a grey for the weft. I wove several samples and the one that was approved required three shuttles. The two heavier Tuna wools had to be wound on the bobbin in doubles. The structure was basket weave.  Weaving went slowly not only because of the three shuttles but because the doubled wools on two of the shuttles had to be separated and laid flat after each throw. The whole project took about six months. I wove over 15 yards of 25 inch wide fabric. A professional upholsterer applied a backing to my fabric and used a matching grey vinyl to finish the chairs. 

The Command Center Restoration project began in 2016.  After the decisions were made and the funds were raised, the entire space was gutted to the studs and restoration began. The goal was to make the room look as if it were 1969 and everyone just went out on a coffee break. Some items from 1969 had been stored but a great deal of work had to be done to restore and/or replace everything: ceiling tiles, wallpaper, wiring, rugs, ashtrays, mugs, coffee urn, notebooks, pens, etc. 

A Ribbon Cutting to open the Center was held in the auditorium at the Johnson Space Center on June 27, 2019. There were displays in the lobby including the Restoration Team sign. About 500 people attended – many workers from the Apollo projects and their families, restoration people and our families, City of Webster officials and Johnson Space Center people. 

Before the ceremony, the Restoration Team was allowed to walk around on the floor of the completed Command Center to see our work up close. Visitors will not be allowed to do this. It was a “look but do not touch” visit so no one was permitted to sit in “my” chairs. Sandra Tetley, JSC Historic Preservation Officer told me that Gene Kranz, Apollo Flight Director, sat in one two days earlier and found it very comfortable. 

Sandra Tetley acknowledged each of the members of the Restoration Team. Both Ed Fendell, Apollo Flight Controller, and Gene Kranz gave excellent talks about the history of the project and its historical significance. I am so proud to be a small part of such a significant project and event. 

Speakers at the Ribbon Cutting were:
Jim Thornton - Project Manager and Master of Ceremony
Mark Geyer - JSC Center Director
William Harris - President and CEO, Space Center Houston
Milford Wayne Donaldson - Chair, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation
Sandra Tetley - JSC Historic Preservation Officer
Ed Fendell - Apollo Flight Controller
Gene Kranz - Apollo Flight Director
How cool is that!?