NASA restores Apollo Mission Operations Control Room in Houston


NASA’s historic Apollo Mission Operations Control Room 2 (MOCR 2) has been restored in meticulous detail just ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. The renowned facility reopened to the public on July 1.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Apollo Flight Director Gene Kranz participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the reopening of the flight control center at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. The site was registered as a national historic landmark in 1985.

Bridenstine posted a video of the former flight director’s speech at the momentous occasion on Twitter.

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“We’re in the historic Mission Control. This has been restored as a multi-year project and with the great support of the local community, Space Center Houston, and the American public through the Kickstarter, we are now traveling back 50 years,” said Kranz. “When I walked through that door, I was 50 years younger. I thought I was the flight director moving up to my console at Mission Control for the Apollo 11 landing.”

Researching and Funding the Project

Historic Preservation Officer Sandra Tetley spearheaded MOCR 2’s restoration. Adam Graves of GRAVitate supported her as project lead.

Research for the undertaking took five years. The team started by compiling a historic furnishings report, then scoured numerous photos, videos, archives, and libraries to gather information on the site. They also conducted interviews with 25 flight controllers.

Sadly, when the project launched, the disheveled room was in a state of disrepair. Through the years, visitors toured the center, dialed phones, and pressed buttons on the darkened, non-functioning consoles.

Tackling a renovation of this size and scope was a daunting task. It also required a sizable amount of money. Tetley obtained a grant from the National Park Service Heritage Program. Other groups helped fund the project, including a $3.5 million donation from the city of Webster, Texas. Space Center Houston, a nonprofit organization, and public donors from a successful Kickstarter campaign also contributed. Collective fundraising efforts pulled in over $5 million.

Recapturing an Era

Above all, the team was deeply committed to recapturing the room exactly as it stood in that legendary space era. In the effort, they aimed to recreate Mission Control as it looked at the time of the Apollo 11 launch 50 years ago.

In striving to reset the scene accurately, project members paid strict attention to colors, textures, chairs, coffee cups, and other details. Furthermore, the revamped center boasts sights and sounds from the historic 1969 lunar landing via video and audio clips from that day.

The team even matched the room’s former paint colors, and a company tufted new carpet to look the same as the original. These elements are among dozens that the team restored, such as the original wallpaper, ceiling tile, the coffeepot (found on eBay) and more.

Tetley discussed the intense focus and dedication she and her fellow team members shared in making the revamped MOCR 2 center as authentic as possible.

“For me, as the historic preservation officer and just as an American, this is one of the most important and historic places on Earth,” said Tetley. “We landed two men on another celestial object, the Moon, and brought them safely home again. For us to be able to do that in this room, that’s significant. So, it’s important for me and for my team for [the Apollo control center] to be historically accurate. Not to look back and say, ‘This is more important than anything we’re doing now,’ but to look back and say, ‘This is significant. This is perhaps maybe as significant as Independence Hall, where we signed the Declaration of Independence.’”

Reaching Old and New Lunar Goals

Anyone living at the time of the Apollo 11 mission in 1969 will likely never forget when NASA Commander Neil Armstrong and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin stepped down onto the surface of the Moon.

The two U.S. astronauts made history as the first humans to land and walk on another celestial body. Their astounding achievement met President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 goal of “landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”

The MOCR 2 ground team anxiously awaited news from the Apollo 11 crew (which also included Command Module Pilot Michael Collins). When the lunar module Eagle touched down on the Moon’s surface, Armstrong said, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

Cheers erupted from Mission Control as Armstrong followed his declaration with an even more iconic quote: “One small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.”

NASA celebrates half a century since that historic moment by reopening its restored Mission Control to the public. The space agency also looks ahead to achieving new lunar goals in the next decade.

This time, America will land the first woman on the Moon by 2024 via the Artemis mission. The first male U.S. astronaut since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped on the lunar surface will join her. Instead of coming back to Earth, astronauts will aim to stay and live on another world before humankind travels across the galaxy to explore Mars.