The changes outside Johnson's gates have been easier to spot. When the shuttle started to fly, in 1981, the area around the center still included cattle pastures and rice fields. Astronaut life reflected the quaint surroundings. When these brave men weren't blasting off into the heavens, they would gather at the local softball fields to play a couple of games, or head over to the Outpost Tavern for a bucket or two of Lone Star.
"It's a totally different feel now," Jerry Ross, a 30-year veteran of the corps (and former Air Force flight engineer) who retired in January, told me. "People are gone so long to train for the ISS in Russia and Europe and Japan and Canada that you don't see them for months at a time. You don't get that close camaraderie that we used to have. It tends to be a little more individualistic."