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

The original ceiling tile grid was still in place and had yellowed over the years from age and nicotine (flight controllers were allowed to smoke in the mission control center). “That was one of the debates,” Tetley says. “Do we want to go back to the bright white that it probably was or do we want to leave this patinated grid? We chose to leave the grid as is and just clean it, so it looks like the day the Apollo controllers walked out.”

“There were so many discussions like that,” Graves points out. “Do we keep something exactly how it is even though it looks worn and used, do we clean it, or do we completely replace it? No one is probably looking at what the ceiling tile grid looks like, but we talked about it for a week or two to determine what we were going to do with it.”

Gene Kranz served as NASA’s chief flight director for Apollo 11 and other Apollo and Gemini missions. Left: Kranz speaking at the opening of the Apollo Mission Control Center restoration, July 20, 2019. Right: Kranz is seated at his console on the morning of the launch of the Apollo 16 lunar landing mission, April 16, 1972.

Tetley and Graves say they leaned toward a “smoky vibe” every chance they could, and that includes the ultimate color of the restored carpet, as well. When the team removed the consoles from the room, some of the original Apollo carpet was under the consoles. The shuttle program had simply re-carpeted around the consoles. “We had these really nice samples of the carpet,” Graves remembers. “But, again, we were dealing with different color samples: We had the original color under the consoles and we had the carpet that was nicotine-stained. We went back and forth on color for quite a while and ultimately decided on ensuring it looked like it was nicotine-stained.”

In addition, the original carpet had been woven, which no longer is how carpet is made and would’ve been expensive to re-create. The Apollo Mission Control Center contained carpet squares on 28- by 28-inch removable floor panels—not a size manufactured anymore. “We went back to the original carpet manufacturer and they created a tufted pattern, where they take needles and put it in the backing,” Tetley says. “They were able to twist the yarn in such a way and then tuft it so that it looked like what we needed.”

The carpet installer then rolled the broadloom carpet out in the control center and cut it into the original 28- by 28-inch squares so it would have the authentic “checkerboard” pattern on the floor.

Meanwhile, Langer had discovered a fire extinguisher had been removed from a wall in the control center and original wallpaper was under that fire extinguisher.

“We were able to review the original building drawings and determine the company that made the wallpaper,” Tetley states. “That manufacturer had been bought by another company but they actually found the original roller that made the wallpaper in their warehouse.”

“We found larger pieces of that historic wallpaper still on the wall behind some items and we left those pieces and blended them into the new wallpaper,” Graves adds. “Visitors can see a tiny bit of contrast be- tween the old and new. That is something we really wanted to highlight—there is still historic wallpaper here and look at how great this match is!”

A layout of the Apollo Mission Control Center, Building 30, Johnson Space Center, Houston.

The flight controllers’ chairs demonstrate the high level of dedication to authenticity the team sought. The chairs feature a coated fabric with a woven seat. The team was able to find a matching coated fabric but couldn’t find anything to match the original seat.“David Bucek [principal of Stern and Bucek Architects] had a friend whose wife was part of the Contemporary Handweavers of Houston group, so they asked her if she could work on this for us,” Tetley relates. “She actually took the time—and it took several tries—but she was able to replicate the fabric. Then she hand-wove all the fabric for all of the flight controllers’ seats.”

Even the most personal of details was not overlooked during the transformation of the Apollo Mission Control Center. For example, while the team was removing consoles and carpet, they found cigarettes butts and decided to keep them. They then placed the correct number of cigarette butts into ashtrays as had appeared in photos and videos from the day of the moon landing. What the team couldn’t find in the room, they made up for with “blanks” cigarettes, the kind in which the wrapping can be filled.

The team also had an “Apollo drive” onsite, in which they asked JSC for Apollo-era items. “We got chairs, coat racks, pens and all kinds of stuff for the room,” Tetley says. “We also did a lot of salvaging. Adam and I walked around a lot of buildings and even stole trash cans because we needed a particular-looking trash can.”

IMAGES: 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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