Family friendly cities: More to explore in Houston
Houston may not seem like an obvious choice for a family vacation, but the city is an underrated destination with fun activities all year round. Even though this city experienced historic flooding last summer, all of the city's attractions are currently open and waiting to be explored. America's fourth-largest city is becoming an increasingly popular, budget-friendly family destination.
Houston earned its nickname, Space City, by putting men on the moon only eight years after the space program was launched there in 1961. Today it's equally well known for Space Center Houston, which hosts one million annual visitors. The Smithsonian-affiliate museum displays artifacts that include past and present Mission Control center replicas; the Apollo 17 module; space shuttles; space station and Mars Rover exhibits; the tallest rocket ever flown (363 feet); and the world's largest collection of space suits. Astronauts themselves make appearances on Fridays and Saturdays, as the NASA Johnson Space Center is right next door, where astronauts are trained and tram tours are given to museum visitors.
Space is not the only topic kids can learn about in Houston. The city is home to three other family-friendly museums—all walking distance apart in the Museum District—that are among the best of their kind in the U.S. A floor-to-ceiling ribcage and a 12-foot-tall beating heart are part of the Amazing Body experience at The Health Museum, where kids get to know how the human body works. Also appealing to inquiring young minds is the Houston Museum of Natural Science nearby, which includes a planetarium and three-story butterfly zoo, and the Children's Museum of Houston, where tots to teens can learn, create, invent and play.
Houston may not be a coastal city, but numerous beaches on Galveston Bay and Galveston Island are within an hour's drive. One big family attraction on the bay is Kemah Boardwalk, which offers classic thrill rides (including a wooden rollercoaster), a Ferris wheel and a double-decker carousel. A bit farther south on the Gulf is Galveston Island's Moody Gardens, where attractions include an aquarium, water park, zip line, ropes course, paddlewheel boat rides, rainforest zoo and 4D Special FX Theater.
Families who prefer “doing" to spectating also have ample choices in Houston. Average highs from the sixties to eighties through spring make outdoor fun pleasant. This may mean a stop at the Houston Zoo, where the African Forest is the newest major addition, or taking the Hermann Park Railroad two-mile ride and pedal boating at McGovern Lake. All are located near the Museum District in Hermann Park. Families can also rent a bike from a bike shop or at any of the 51 Houston BCycle bike-sharing stations for a spin on the river-hugging Buffalo Bayou Trail near downtown Houston.
Family-friendly festivals can be enjoyed all year in Houston. Families can take part in a traditional Chinese New Year festival (Feb. 24-25), where seven lion dance troupes will perform, or the American tradition of watching a big rodeo (Feb. 27-March 18), where a parade and horse show are also featured. In April, they can attend America's largest children's festival (April 7-8), with 300 activities and four entertainment stages, or see the world's wackiest-decorated vehicles at the 250,000-spectator Art Car Parade (April 14). Kids of all ages should enjoy Comicpalooza on Memorial Day weekend. Or, looking further ahead, they can visit Houston for the big July 4 weekend festival or Thanksgiving weekend parade.
If you go
United Airlines offers flights to Houston from numerous cities throughout the U.S. and abroad, and MileagePlus® Rewards can help pay for your car rental and hotel room once you arrive. Go to united.com or use the United app to plan your family getaway to Texas.
If you can't get to Mars, what's the next best thing? Apparently Iceland. A team of renowned explorers and researchers recently journeyed to Iceland to test a Mars analog suit in a Martian-like environment.
The United sponsored expedition, led by The Explorers Club — an internationally recognized organization that promotes the scientific exploration of land, sea, air and space — and in partnership with Iceland Space Agency, involved the team venturing inside the Grímsvötn volcano and across the Vatnajökull ice cap. The group traveled to the remote location and lived for six days in the Grímsvötn Mountain Huts and endured harsh weather conditions and unstable terrain.
Helga Kristin Torfadöttir, Geologist and glacier guide, using the LiDAR system to map the ground and test the suit's capabilities on the glacier.
The objective of the mission was to explore the potential of concept operations at the Grímsvötn location while testing the suit in an arctic environment similar to what would be found on the surface of Mars. "This mission was an important test of the design of the MS1 suit, but it was also incredibly helpful to understand the how to conduct these sorts of studies in Iceland," said Michael Lye, MS1 designer and NASA consultant and RISD professor. "No matter how thoroughly something is tested in a controlled environment like a lab, studying it in a setting that accurately represents the environment where it will be used is absolutely essential to fully understand the design."
The suit was designed and constructed by faculty and students at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) with input and guidance from members of the HI-SEAS IV crew and NASA's Johnson Space Center Space Suit Engineering team. At 50-60 lbs, the suit is similar to what a planetary exploration suit would weigh in Martian gravity. The suit was originally designed to be used in the warm climate of Hawaii, however the martian climate is much closer to what would be found on top of the glaciers in Iceland. The data collected will inform the future of habitat and spacesuit design that can be used to train astronauts on Earth.
Today, we remember the colleagues, customers and every single victim of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
I know each of us in the United family marks this difficult moment in our own way. Still, we all share a common commitment to honor how our brothers and sisters left us and also celebrate what they gave to us during their lives. We remember their professionalism and heroism. We cherish their camaraderie and friendship. We carry with us the examples they set forth, especially in the heroism and bravery displayed by so many on that terrible day. Above all, we understand a simple truth: While thousands of our fellow human beings lost their lives in New York City, Arlington and Shanksville, the attacks of September 11th were aimed at all people of peace and good will, everywhere. They were attacks on the values that make life worth living, as well as the shared purpose that make us proud of what we do as members of the United family: connecting people and uniting the world.
We may live in times scarred by discord and disagreement, and we know there are those around the world who seek to divide us against one another. But, on this day – above all – we come together, as one. We affirm our core belief that far, far more unites us as citizens and fellow human beings than can ever divide us.
Let us embody that belief as we go about serving our customers and one another – on this day and every day – as we continue to help building a world that's more united. Let that be our memorial to the sisters and brothers we lost, eighteen Septembers ago.