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Will NASA's Ruined Apollo Mission Control Room Rise Again?

An effort is underway to restore the storied control center that first saw humans land on the moon.
Mission control at Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Mission Control at Johnson Space Center in Houston.Dan Winters

HOUSTON – The storied room that first saw humans land on the moon has fallen into a shocking state of disrepair. Once a gleaming state-of-the-art facility, Apollo Mission Control at Johnson Space Center here has become a place of flickering lights and worn carpet held together with tape. The keyboards of its old flight consoles are missing buttons.

NASA says it lacks the money to renovate the room, which was decommissioned in 1992. In recent years, it's been a stop on guided tours of the space center — and in 2015 was designated a "threatened facility" by the National Park Service.

But Space Center Houston and other philanthropic groups have stepped in to fill the void, starting a Kickstarter campaign that aims to renovate the facility in time for the 50th anniversary of the first manned mission to the moon. That comes in 2019.

“What we envision is when you step into the visitor viewing area to see the mission control center, it will be as if the men who worked here had just gone on break,” said William Harris, president of Space Center Houston.

The campaign has garnered support from more than 3,000 people from around the world. It’s estimated that $5 million will be enough to bring the room back to its original state, as seen on television back in the day and as depicted in the 1995 movie "Apollo 13."

Behind the effort to restore mission control is a handful of NASA workers who spent countless stressful hours working in the room, including the former Apollo flight director, Gene Kranz.

Kranz, 84, believes not enough was done to prevent the room's deterioration.

"This is frustrating to me that NASA allowed this room to deteriorate to the condition it was in,” he said. “They did not have the feeling that comes from having worked and this room. We saw incredible tragedy, but we also triumphed.”

Gene Kranz at his desk in the original mission control room during the Apollo era.
Gene Kranz at his desk in the original mission control room during the Apollo era.NASA

Kranz and his colleagues were in the room for Apollo 11 and the other successful manned missions to the moon. They were also there when three astronauts died during testing for the first Apollo mission in 1967 and in 1970 when the Apollo 13 astronauts returned safely to Earth after their space capsule was disabled by an explosion.

Among the contributors to the Kickstarter campaign is the City of Webster, Texas, which was home to many of the flight controllers and other personnel who worked in the room during the during the Apollo era. In early 2017, the city stepped forward with a gift of $3.1 million on top of a dollar-for-dollar matching campaign.

“We hope that by restoring this room, it will make create greater awareness about the incredible work, achievements, of the U.S. space program," Harris said. "We are really standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before us.”