Astros: Why MMP should feature a space science museum

Paul Conlon
(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /
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Read on for how a space science museum experience at MMP can benefit baseball, economic development, education, and community.

Take a poll among Houstonians. Ask how many know what an Astro is, exactly. Besides the Biggio, Bagwell, Bregman and Berkman references—what exactly does the Houston Astros‘ namesake mean?

As a native Houstonian, I unfortunately never knew until I was in graduate school. Of all things, it was an economic development lecture involving a quick inference where astronauts were referred to as “astros,” for short, by those in the know in the science community.

Adjoining Minute Maid park remains none other than Union Station. My ancestors came in through the building—a railroad hub rich in history in the soon-to-be bustling town of Houston some 100-plus years ago. The marble floors, grand ceiling, and iconic brickwork spoke to visitors and new transplants alike as a key first impression.

Now the building is synonymous with Astros baseball, nestled mere feet behind the Crawford Boxes in left field. Former Astros owner, Drayton McClane, allegedly had a sign installed on the exterior of the building featuring the measurement from home plate to the window in his office, as if to tempt his players to break his window with a long ball in a key moment. Albert Pujols came close with a shot off of Brad Lidge that some consider to still be in orbit above Earth.

Recently, I had a chance to visit the Louisville Slugger factory in beautiful Kentucky. So much of the building is walkable, even without buying a ticket for a tour. The building has an enchanting quality, replete with nostalgia, Americana, and pride for the company’s key innovative contributions to baseball bats.

Remarkably, all bats made by Louisville Slugger—thousands per day—occur within an old brick multistory building that was frequented by the likes of Ted Williams, just so he could hand-select his favorite pieces of lumber before each season (learned that on the wonderful tour).

It got me thinking—the first floor of Union Station has a similar exterior to the Louisville Slugger factory—why not make Union Station’s first floor lobby a space science museum? The Astros could benefit from the public outreach and commitment to education.

And it could serve as a top attraction, open most of the year, on a site like Tripadvisor, helping boost Houston’s economic growth. Moreover, the ball club could enjoy the added benefit of increased foot traffic next to their primary gift shop located mere feet away.

So—what could it look like? Well, for starters, baseball enthusiasts love talking about launch angles and exit velocities. Are spaceships so different?

After all, they have to achieve a bare minimum exit velocity to leave Earth’s orbit through what is referred to among physicists as escape velocity. This creates a great opportunity for visitors, such as students, to consider engineering better vehicles.

Additionally, as a key component of Newtonian physics, force equals mass times acceleration. And baseball fans love how far the strongest hitters can accelerate and launch homers.

Also, the flight of a baseball incurs resistance, not unlike a spaceship entering or leaving Earth’s atmosphere. A pitched ball slows down due to friction as it reaches home plate, while a craft like the New Horizon probe that reached Pluto some five years ago does not have to share the same fate due to its lack of atmospheric resistance while traveling through space.

Such a museum experience in Houston—iconic for its role in Homo sapiens’ first visit to the moon—could also feature authentic spacesuits and equipment on loan from NASA, as well as interactive exhibits that allow visitors to hit a baseball on other planets with an ocular virtual reality device. Imagine visualizing how a batted ball travels through other planets’ atmospheres. Perhaps a little too cloudy on Venus, but, hey, why not?

And, when kids learn their are jobs in science and math—including potentially being an astronaut—they might have more to aspire to than simply trying to make it as a professional athlete. That would also make for an interesting poll—perhaps a welcome distraction from the MLB lockout coverage—in effect, how many big leaguers would trade ever playing a day in the major leagues if they could be guaranteed a spot as one of the astronauts to walk on the moon or Mars?

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In short, the Astros never quite specified what their moniker means—at least, to the most recent generations. Connecting the Astros with the astronauts just makes sense. Now is a time to pair science, community, and baseball, and boost Houston’s economy through a unique tourist attraction located on the first floor of iconic Union Station.

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