Historic Apollo Mission Control Consoles Return to Houston

If you were to visit Historic Apollo Mission Control at NASA's Johnson Space Center today, you would be surprised to learn that the vacant room where confident, boisterous flight controllers worked to land men on the Moon was once the scene of restrained frenzy. Five decades later, much of the room remains intact. The hand worn and faded consoles form straight lines, bits of space history cover the walls, but it sits quiet and in need of repair.   

On Thursday, a major milestone in restoration work being conducted in the room was reached with the return of the first set of ten restored Mission Control consoles.

Around two dozen NASA alumni, current NASA employees, and media were on hand to see the historic consoles return to Houston aboard NASA’s Super Guppy cargo plane following restoration work in Kansas. Glynn Lunney was one of those confident young men working in Mission Control during the Apollo era, doing whatever it took to get the job done, and he was at Ellington Field to see the refurbished consoles firsthand.

“I always wanted Historic Apollo Mission Control to be taken care of so people could come in and get an idea of what went on there. I want it to make them think about what will go on in the future, that they may be part of,” Lunney told Cosmic Chicago. “We did something unique there, special. So it’s like that, the restoration work will give people an idea of what the history of the room was and is.”

The consoles are central to the $5 million campaign to restore Historic Apollo Mission Control. “The culture over the years has been to allow employees, and their families and friends, to be able to walk in the room and see where history was made and the significance of the lunar landings. Over a period of time the room kind of fell into disrepair because of all the physical traffic through the room,” said Jim Thornton,  Apollo Mission Control restoration project manager. “Folks would come in and pound on buttons and try everything, so it took a toll on the consoles over the years. All of that has been repaired, or will be repaired, to truly return these consoles back to the way they looked in July of 69.”

Members of the Space Works restoration team from Kansas detailed the work they did to an audience of retired, but still eager, flight controllers. “They’re retro-fit with LED technology,” said a member of the team, raising the back of the console panels for everyone to take a peek.  

That LED technology and new wiring were added, “to kinda reanimate the consoles,” said Thornton, “but at the same time we want them to have the same look as it was, so the flat panel displays looked a little too crisp and we’ve had to fuzz them up a little bit to have them look appropriate for that era.”

Apollo Mission Control, now a National Historic Landmark, is in the middle of a major restoration project being carried out by Space Center Houston. The goal is to restore the room to its former glory, capturing that moment in time when Apollo 11’s Eagle landed on the Moon.

The plan is for the project to be completed in time for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission. The remaining consoles will travel to Kansas for restoration, and everything from the carpet to the ceiling panels are being replaced to make it feel and look much the same way it did in 1969.

When asked how he feels when returning to Mission Control, Lunney told me, “It’s a little bit like going to church. It’s spiritual.” He recalled the day the crew of Apollo 8 brought everyone in the room to tears as they read from Genesis and told me about the time they had a really big problem. “Apollo 13, no one had ever simulated that before,” said Lunney, “No one ever lost faith. We sat down at these consoles and did what we had to do.”  
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