Wow, what an absolutely amazing week in Houston, thanks to the Children’s Wish Foundation!! We’re still living high after our out-of-this-world experience that was such a blast for everyone (I can’t resist the space puns), even though it was most definitely Addison’s wish. She has said several times in many different ways, “It was the best!!”, and “This is the most awesome thing ever!”
I’m not sure I will be able to truly capture the incredible week we had…but here’s a play-by-play recap of Addison’s wish trip…
Huge parent fail when we realized over the weekend that Addison did NOT have enough meds to get her through a week of travel, let alone the backup supply we are supposed to carry. So our drive to the airport included a pit stop at BC Children’s Hospital Pharmacy to pick up a round of Tac.
Still got to YVR with plenty of time to spare. Emily from the Vancouver office of Children’s Wish was there to meet us. She came along as our CW escort to make sure the celebrity meeting went smoothly.
Time difference and no nap meant a bit of a hard crash landing in Houston, at least for Charlie. Houston is a very sprawling city and the airport is 70km from NASA’s Johnson Space Centre. Thankfully we opted for a hotel right by NASA for that first night. Everyone was in bed, lights out, by around 11:30pm CDT. Charlie, unfortunately, didn’t seem to think sleep was necessary and rolled around for another hour!
Tuesday – the BIG day!
The alarm went off at 6:30am, 4:30am Vancouver time. OUCH. Girls were rock solid asleep of course, but didn’t take much to get Addison jumping out of bed. Charlie wasn’t that cooperative. But we did not want to be late for our date with astronaut David Saint-Jacques!! Checked out of hotel at 8:15am and in the car to meet our NASA rep Susan Anderson and Emily.
The outer bands of a hurricane had descended on Houston, so pounding rain and lashing winds greeted us. Traffic was a nightmare. We made it just a few minutes late, which in the end was ok because David was not there yet. Whew.
He had requested we meet at Rocket Park, this massive warehouse which houses an actual ginormous Saturn 5 rocket. When we first got there, the girls Oooohed and Aaaahed and promptly ran over to get a closer look at this behemoth. Seriously, this thing is HUGE.
Addison was nervous and excited, jumping up and down. A few minutes later, a car pulled up in the parking lot, and she got even more fidgety.
Then David walked in the door wearing that instantly recognizable blue flight suit. I think Addison was stunned into silence for a few seconds, just sporting that huge grin.
David looks just like he does on TV, LOL. But that warm personality is even better in person. It is obvious he is a father of three little children – ages 2, 5 and 7 – because he knew exactly how to talk to both of the girls. Charlie clearly warmed up to David right away, even jumping into his lap!
Addison had prepared a list of questions for him and we had also worked with her Grade 2/3 teacher to get the classroom involved and they had their 10 questions. We videotaped his answers so the students could hear it right from the source.
Then we took a walk down the length of the Saturn 5 and David gave us a lesson in orbital mechanics. Seriously. It actually made sense to all of us!
The half an hour passed in a flash, with lots of photos and hugs at the end. But we knew David was an extremely busy guy – and that’s an understatement. He had just come from a classroom session on campus and was leaving us to head immediately to the airport to fly back to Canada for a couple of days in Ottawa for some Canadian Space Agency stuff, then to Montreal for one last weekend at home with his family before returning to Russia for the final countdown to launch day. We talked about the uncertainty around his mission (which had originally been scheduled for December 20) due to the Soyuz launch failure less than two weeks prior to our meeting. By the way, NASA and CSA just confirmed December 3 is the new launch date!
Later we learned Addison’s meeting with him had been in jeopardy due to the scheduling changes from the aborted launch, but David had insisted he had to keep that appointment. We know he literally squeezed us in and we are so very grateful he took the time to fulfill Addison’s wish.
But that wasn’t the end of our space-tastic morning! Susan had arranged an incredible behind-the-scenes tour of the NASA facilities. We started at the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, the huge high-tech pool where astronauts get spacewalk training on a mock International Space Station. We met Callie Catell, one of the NBL divers, and she explained all about her job (she often spends 6-8 hours in the pool on a typical work day!) and how she and the other divers make it possible for the astronauts to do their jobs. We learned more about the huge team it takes to ensure this whole space thing is a success. Addison’s favourite part of this visit was the special delivery from one of the divers. 🙂
Next stop: Space Vehicle Mockup Facility. This is where there is a life-size model of the ISS on dry land. It’s separated into pieces so astronauts can practise and train on all the different parts. Think of it as a life-size classroom! Addison thought it was really funny there were baby wipes prominently displayed on the wall of one of the modules. There is no toilet paper in space because the little dry paper bits would make a mess, so baby wipes are an essential.
We got to see NASA’s new space vehicle Orion, slated to launch next year, which will herald a new generation of space exploration. And we got to see inside a teeny tiny Soyuz capsule, just imagining how squishy it is in there when three astronauts are crammed inside.
Our last stop was the most famous one – Mission Control Center. It was such a familiar place because of all the movies that feature the MCC, real and fake. There is a viewing area where public tours can overlook the floor, but Ground Control Manager Bill amazingly got permission from the Flight Director to let us on to the actual floor!! Woohoo!
Aaron and I were way more excited about this than Addison, and Charlie also decided she had had enough of NASA and was approaching meltdown mode. Gummies and other forms of bribery were no longer working, and she was ramping herself up into a bit of a freak out. Thankfully, that was also the moment the ISS was in satellite blackout so most of the staff rushed off for bathroom/snack/fresh air breaks. Good timing – we no longer had to worry our two-year old was jeopardizing highly important space communications!
Addison loved the special photo MCC had prepared for her visit. Pretty awesome right?? A fantastic way to end an amazing day at NASA! The main part of Addison’s wish was over and all of us were thrilled with the super duper brilliant and wonderful excellence we got to experience. Seriously, it was outstanding.
We said good-bye to Emily, and headed into the heart of Houston for the next few days of our trip.
I am just going to fast forward through these three days, but we packed so much in to the schedule: Children’s Museum, Museum of Natural Science, Texas BBQ, Houston Zoo, Buffalo Bayou nature walk, kolaches, chicken and waffles with gumbo and oxtail curry, Galveston beach time, surrey ride, frozen custard, Space Center Houston (the official visitor centre of the Johnson Space Center), Vietnamese dinner.
For our final day in Houston, we were back at Johnson Space Center for a special public open house day to celebrate NASA’s 60th anniversary. This was the first time in five years the public had been invited on to the grounds and they came out by the thousands!
Thankfully, with our special VIP tour earlier in the week we were able to skip Mission Control and the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility, which is a good thing because the lineups wrapped around the buildings! We spent time learning about the medical research part of space missions, met many of the businesses who work with NASA on cool space stuff (like those space suits), shook hands with another astronaut, Randy Bresnik, and touched space rocks.
Then we capped it all off with one more stop at Space Center Houston to finish seeing all the exhibits before heading to the airport to return home.
So how do I sum up this fabulous experience? We all learned so much about space, astronaut life (turns out our NASA tour guide Susan is married to an astronaut!!), Johnson Space Center (did you know 10,000 people work on campus??)…I could go on. But it was all about Addison, and I think it blew her mind. Here was one of the rare times when it was just a little bit awesome to be a heart transplant kid.
The reality of her life doesn’t escape her. At one point in Houston, Addison said, “Let’s face it. I’m never going to be an astronaut. They’re never going to let me fly into space with my heart transplant.” I felt so sad when I heard her say that, because though we’ve always encouraged her dreams and passions, we’ve been careful to never say she can be anything she wants. Now, we can tell her that it’s ok because there are thousands of people with some pretty cool jobs who help put astronauts there, and she’s met several of them. And with the commercial space flight program, people who aren’t candidates to be astonauts may still get a chance to fly to space in the future.
We try hard to make Addison’s everyday wishes come true on a regular basis, balanced with a good dose of sensible parenting and financial reality, but this is not something we could have ever done for her. For that, we are so thankful to all the people who made Addison’s wish possible. From the CW board member who turned out to have a NASA connection when all other avenues failed, to NASA and the Johnson Space Center for welcoming us so enthusiastically, to all the CW staff who worked on the many logistics of this trip, and of course to our favourite Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques. You have no idea how much light and hope you have brought into our world. We can’t wait to watch you blast off into space!! We’ll be reaching for the stars right alongside of you.
Elaine, Aaron, Addison and Charlie