HOUSTON: Plans to restore the NASA mission control room that served as the nerve center for the Apollo missions, when man first reached the moon, have been discussed for more than 20 years, but its restoration and preservation remain in limbo with no set date for work to begin.
Officials at Johnson Space Center in Houston say the restoration of Mission Operation Control Room 2 is a priority, but note that NASA has other priorities, too — including the space flights managed in the large, active building where the control room is located. The room was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1985 and retired seven years later.
The Houston Chronicle reports that in the room that had its glory days during the decades of Gemini and Apollo and the shuttle programs, many of the carpet squares are stained and taped together. Behind the glass in the visitor area — where dignitaries and media observed mission control at work — the seats are worn. Ash-tray covers have been pried loose and pieces of upholstery cut away for souvenirs.
Gene Kranz, a flight director during NASA's Gemini and Apollo missions who was portrayed by Ed Harris in the film "Apollo 13," told a group of preservationists touring the room last month, "This is a place of history. But what I see is a tired Mission Control, worn of its heart and soul. It's time to start the battle for its restoration."
Like others from NASA, Kranz usually refers to the room by its acronym, MOCR2 — pronounced "Mo-ker Two."
The most recent proposal to restore the room, released last year, would cost about $3 million and require about 18 months of work. That would restore the room to the way it was for Apollo missions 11 through 17 — right down to the headsets, pencil holders and amber glass ash trays. The result would make MOCR2 — already a popular attraction — the crown jewel of Space Center Houston, the Johnson Space Center's visitor center.
To be ready by July 16, 2019, in time for the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, the room's restoration would have to start by the end of 2017.
"We are certainly excited about the whole restoration project," said Johnson Space Center Director Ellen Ochoa. "And we're also committed to doing it in time for the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11."
She also notes though that they "have to make sure we concentrate on the current work and the future as well." MOCR2 is just one room in a building where NASA still does classified work. The Christopher C. Kraft Jr. Mission Control Center still manages space flights from there.
Because it's a historic landmark, the National Park Service and the Texas State Historical Association are both interested parties in the room's restoration, but it remains the property of Johnson Space Center.
The National Historic Preservation Act requires a consultation meeting to advance the project, but it hasn't taken place. Tom Keohan of the Park Service said his organization responded to an invitation for that consultation in February, but since then hasn't heard from NASA.