NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, located northeast of Washington, D.C., in Greenbelt, Maryland, was the agency’s first campus and is still its major laboratory for developing and operating probes, satellites, and other unmanned spacecraft. Among other projects, it is responsible for the Hubble Space Telescope and ICESat, which tracks the polar icecaps. At Goddard, engineers test space equipment against the noise and vibration of takeoff (a tooth-chattering 150 decibels), subject it to the extra G force of a launch with a massive centrifuge, and expose it to the near-total vacuum and extreme heat and cold of outer space.
When you visit Goddard, you’ll get to watch “Footprints,” a movie projected onto a sphere from four different projectors. The film simulates the view of Earth from outer space; You’ll see composite satellite images of forests and deserts, city lights at night, hurricanes, and much more. In “New Views of the Universe” you can see huge versions of the spectacular images captured by the Hubble Telescope and learn what scientists have gained from them. A Rocket Garden demonstrates how thrusters carry machinery aloft.
Finally, stop by the gift shop to buy a model rocket complete with motor. On the first Sunday of every month at 1 p.m., Goddard offers free launches, so if you build yours and come back, you can shoot it straight into the sky. Or you can watch all the other rocket enthusiasts launch theirs. That’s fun, too.
Families and small groups wishing to visit the Visitor Center and simply explore the exhibit gallery and rocket garden on their own during regular hours do not need to make reservations. If you’re with a school, community, or cultural group, or can put one together, you can schedule a tour of the satellite construction, testing, and operations areas otherwise closed to the public. Tours are limited to 40 people. For more information, visit www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/visitor/home/index.html.
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
The Visitor Center is closed Mondays except for some federal holidays. It is open on Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Martin Luther King Day, Presidents Day and Memorial Day from noon to 4 p.m. Please note that Visitor Center hours are subject to change.
Metrorail: Not accessible by Metro.
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