For space buffs, astronauts are intensely fascinating. Only a select few dreamers make NASAâ€™s cut to join the ranks of space travelers. Their mastery of science, aviation, and physical fitness sets them apart. Their explorations are heralded in classrooms, books, and movies.
But at the end of the day, astronauts are flesh-and-blood humans like the rest of us. And many are happy to share their stories with the interested public. Space Center Houston offers that chance with its weekly "Lunch With an Astronaut" program.
Astronaut Leroy Chiao visits with diners at Space Center Houston's Lunch With an Astronaut.
Space Center Houston launched the program a couple of years ago. Proving to be a popular draw, the center has Friday lunches lined up through 2014. The schedule features retired astronauts such as Leroy Chiao, who participated in four space missions between 1994 and 2005, and Brian Duffy, who took part in four space missions between 1992 and 2000.
"One of the biggest things our visitors have asked us for is having an up-close-and- personal experience with an astronaut," says Mike Wampler, marketing manager for Space Center Houston.
At the lunches, "the astronaut gives everyone a brief overview of his experience as an astronaut and then he goes from table to table spending time and answering questions. He signs a bio card, and takes photographs with the people at the table," Wampler explains.
In addition to the Friday lunches, Space Center Houston also offers presentations by astronauts at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Fridays in the center theater.
"Those that really want to take their visit to the next level will plan for a Friday visit, plan to go to the theater engagement, follow it up with lunch with an astronaut, and spend the rest of the day in the building," Wampler says.
Lunch tickets are sold on a first-come basis. They cost $49.95 for adults and $29.95 for children ages 4-11. The ticket includes entry to Space Center Houston for the day.