On arrival in Houston Nicko, Davey, Steve, Bruce, Jan and I, along with photographer John and IMTV boss Andy Matthews, set off for a very special and historical location, NASA Space Centre, as the invited guests of astronaut Michael J. Massimino and the NASA Mission Control fans. It was a memorable experience meeting and listening to the experiences of a bona fide astronaut, one who has undertaken four space walks including one to replace failed batteries in the Hubble Telescope. We were given a very detailed tour lasting many hours. First we were taken around and inside the replica Space Station, which is far larger inside than one would think although it is basically a series of "tunnels". Next was the Space Shuttle, where we were even allowed to play in the cockpit!! Sadly the Space Shuttles are to be retired soon apparently. A major surprise was then to walk into the Mission Control Room, something we have all seen on News and NASA documentaries, and of course featured in a number of movies, to find the many fans who work in there had put up massive pictures of the band on the screens where you would normally see the rockets taking off. We spent a lot of time talking to the tech guys in there and could have spent longer as it was so very interesting (thanks Thor, Odin and gang). Next we were led into the historic Apollo Room from which the early moon trips were coordinated. The equipment was so outdated it hard to believe it was able to provide the "brain power" to get man on the moon -- not once but six times. The red phone with its direct line to the President to inform him of the moon landing was also still there and of course Nicko and I had to have a go. Sadly the Pres was out!
We then walked over to check out a couple of rockets outside and the shed for Saturn V, being intercepted along the way by a "lurking" fan and his son. George was actually the Head of Security of the Space Shuttle and was on a day off. However, having heard we were coming, he stayed around hoping to meet up with us. After some autographs he took us round the massive Saturn V and explained a lot of the history. All the fuel in the massive first stage is burnt in two and a half minutes propelling the rocket just 2.5 miles and to speeds of some 6,000 mph. Incredible. Apparently there are three Saturn Vs left as when the Apollo programme was terminated these three had already been built so are now effectively space museum pieces -- a sad end to a very exciting beginning in the life of a rocket.
In the evening we were taken to the simulator of the Space Shuttle and divided into two groups of 4 to have a go, this being a great privilege as people who had worked at NASA for over fifteen years had never been allowed to try it. Our inhouse flight specialist Bruce reckoned that definite non-flyer Janick did the smoothest landing. I flew with Nicko who did great -- there is a real shuddering as it takes off then you are thrown back in the seats -- well strapped in of course -- then it smoothes out as it gets into space .....and then you come down, and if you miss the landing there is no second chance. You cant lift off again like a plane, just one shot!!
If you ever get chance you must make a visit. It truly is a very memorable experience. So much has been gained from the Space Programme in so many areas of science, technology, engineering, astronomy, human survival and medicine -- you name a science and the space programme will have had an beneficial effect on it. Surely it is short sighted to limit the bounds of human experience and knowledge by reducing the programme as appears to have been happening. However in the press here recently there is talk of President Obama wanting to land man on an asteroid hurtling round the sun by 2025. A first trip into "Deep Space" - now that would be something... if it can get the funding. I think it would be rather more difficult than this was in the Bruce Willis movie "Armageddon". Lets hope it goes ahead though, it would be an incredible achievement at least equal to the first moon landing!
Next day was a showday which I spent working most of the time but got down to the Amphitheatre early to catch up on a few issues with the crew. All had gone pretty well show-wise on the first one in Dallas but there is always a lot of detail to get perfect in the first few shows. It usually takes about six before band and show are running as we would like to so I spend these shows watching intently from the mixing desk making notes for suggested improvements or to eliminate mistakes. Basically we all work together to really optimise the show for the fans. We usually have a set camera out front too so Steve can have a look at the production and light show in case he wishes to embellish everything. It also takes a show or three to feel if the set works as well as it can and in this instance after Dallas we replaced 1000 Suns with Wrathchild as it seemed to give the set a better balance. It was always the plan to alternate Paschendale and Dance of Death as we couldn't decide which one to go with! Both seem to be working well in their different ways.
Michael and other NASA personnel came to the show and Nicko returned the favour to Michael letting him sit behind his drums and watch him beat the hell out of them for the first 3 numbers. Also as a golfer it was great to see previous Open winner Mark Calcavecchia there as a guest of Nicko and have a beer and a chat. (On winning the 89 British Open and holding up the Cup his comment was "how is my name going to fit on it?")
For a second show I was pleased how it went and the 12,000 fans out front seemed to have a great time and were full of zest still for the sing along for Running Free at the end. It was pretty humid in the evening but, as with Dallas, we were fortunate that it clouded over again so didn't get too unbearably hot on stage.
Then it was on to San Antonio -- John and I met up with Major Monkey again in the morning. He took us to the USAF Airbase to check out the massive C35 transport planes he flies. These are huge, 4 stories high in the cockpit and almost room for a convoy in the back. On the road it is great to be able to get out and see these things, we would never get the chance ordinarily. I used to make tons of Airfix Model planes when I was a kid so must admit I love it. There is also an outdoor air museum there with the majestic SR-71, forerunner to the Stealthbomber, and B-29 Flying Fortress which after the C-35 looked quite small.
For the show in the evening we had opted for indoors in the splendid AT & T Centre, sold out to 13,000. Really good show, everything coming together really well. Afterwards pretty well everyone got out of the hotel to a local bar where we had a few beers.
I seem to have missed out commenting along the way about sport, my great passion, and of course it is a great time for it. Of course we checked out the embarrassingly poor England v USA World Cup game and the sorry mistake by our keeper. Have to say USA deserved the draw for sure. Steve was mortified - I watched it with some of the guys in the hotel bar. Why cant our lot show a bit more cohesion, determination and passion? But as you may know this is not my game, rugby is and even sadder England Rugby put up an equally passionless and limited performance against Australia, losing 27- 17 (but at least we were soon to improve , unlike our football brethren!). Also the NBA Finals were going on -- I am a Lakers fan from living in LA 1984-88 when I used to go regularly to see the might of Magic, Kareem, Worthy, Cooper, AC Green and the rest. They were amazing and it is certainly some level of synchronicity that in those days it was also Lakers v Celtics as THE match up and most finals. I used to hate the Celtics McHale and his angularity (and opposing impact on a game!!) but you could never hate Bird, just admire his talent. I will keep my sport summaries to a minimum and in one place so those lacking interest can skip it. but it is all very much part of touring and I have of course got my Sky Slingbox hooked up!!!