The Apollo Mission Control Center in Houston Is Accurately Restored to July 20, 1969, the Date Apollo 11 Landed on the Moon

Although the need to restore the Apollo Mission Control Center was clear, no one wanted to pay for it and there were few in favor of it being accurately restored to the Apollo era. Therefore, the project stalled for at least a year.

“Gene Kranz [who served as NASA’s chief flight director for Apollo 11 and other Apollo and Gemini missions] wrote what we call a nuclear letter,” Tetley recalls. “That letter went to congressmen, it went to the head of the park service, to our NASA administrator, to the Houston Chronicle, to the Texas Historic Commission, everybody on Earth, saying that this needed to be done because this was one of the most historic places on Earth. I heard secondhand, so I can’t actually corroborate this, but what I understood was NASA headquarters called our center director and said ‘you all need to work on this’.”

July 20, 1969: Astronaut Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot of the first lunar landing mission, poses for a photograph beside the deployed United States flag during Apollo 11 extravehicular activity (EVA) on the lunar surface. The Lunar Module (LM) is on the left, and the footprints of the astronauts are clearly visible in the soil of the moon.

Kranz and Fendell were integral to the restoration—not only fighting the political battles, but also recruiting other flight controllers to participate in the restoration. “Very early in the process we pulled in as many flight controllers as we could and interviewed them at their consoles,” Graves recalls. “We asked them about lighting in the room and what buttons they interacted with and heard their stories. Quite a number of them were involved.”


Even before funding was approved for the restoration in 2017, Graves and Ayuda, the project manager, began assembling the team of unique and dedicated specialists who could help return the Apollo Mission Control Center to its glory days. The technical component of the restoration—consoles, in particular—required the most creativity to locate restoration specialists. “I didn’t get very far in the historic preservation world while looking for who might restore the consoles and screens and other technology in the room. I mostly found hobbyists that fix old cars and things like that,” Graves recalls. “The ‘Apollo 13’ movie built a whole set that looks very similar to the mission control room, so I looked at all the credits at the end of the movie and found the production designer, Michael Corenblith. I literally messaged him through Facebook and he responded very quickly. He was really excited about the restoration.”

Corenblith suggested Graves contact Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, Kan. Cosmosphere is a space museum that showcases space history, as well as features a planetarium and interactive rocket laboratory. Cosmosphere also has a division known as SpaceWorks that builds and restores space paraphernalia not only for the museum, but for movies, like “Apollo 13”. “I called them and they jumped all over the console restoration,” Graves says. “They actually knew quite a bit about the consoles; they restored lots of consoles for different movies and actually bought a number of them back in the day, so they had a warehouse full of parts.”

The original Apollo consoles also had been used by the shuttle program; their modules simply were removed and upgraded as technology changed or as missions required. “We had all of those consoles, plus when shuttle command was closing down, they started moving things to a warehouse,” Tetley explains. “The warehouse was filled with other consoles and modules. That was really a blessing. It pays to hoard!”

AFTER: The flight controllers smoked so much they used cigar ashtrays in the Apollo Mission Control Center. During the restoration, the flight controllers admitted there were times they couldn’t see the front screens because of all the cigarette smoke in the room.

SpaceWorks configured the consoles to Apollo 15 era because the flight controllers felt very strongly that was the height of the technological advancements of the Apollo program. The SpaceWorks team was able to refer to the historic furnishings report for most of the detail it needed but Graves played an integral part in this process, as well. “What was actually shown on the screens and on the consoles and which buttons were lit up and flashing, ultimately, that was my responsibility to make sure all was correct and accurate,” Graves says.


While Cosmosphere’s SpaceWorks team restored consoles, Graves and Tetley managed every other portion of the restoration, from leading the Stern and Bucek Architects team to re-create original carpet, wallpaper and ceiling tiles to developing the storytelling and visitor experience.

When it came to materials in the Apollo Mission Control Center, Tetley and Graves were adamant the restoration be as true to the original as possible. “We knew that the ceiling tiles had changed. The wallpaper had changed. The room had been re-carpeted from Apollo to shuttle, but we were really trying to get it back to original,” Tetley recalls. “We hired Jhonny Langer, who is a finishes expert. We were over in the lobby, and there were three original phone booths, and Jhonny was looking at the ceiling tile in them. He said it looked like original tile, so we pulled down a piece and started comparing it around the building and, sure enough, it was of that era and it was of that type.”

To recreate the original ceiling tiles, the restoration team found a base ceiling tile that contained no holes. They then created a computer-generated hole pattern based off the original tiles and literally hand-stamped the pattern with stick pins and small nails into the base ceiling tile. “We had over 500 tiles, and it took about an hour each!” Tetley remembers.

PHOTOS: NASA Johnson Space Center

About the Author

Christina A. Koch
Christina A. Koch is editorial director and associate publisher of retrofit.

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