Goddard Space Center, Greenbelt, Md.
Think of Goddard as the space program’s eye. The men and women here image the universe, starting with our little planet. Their satellites watch Earth’s hurricanes, its weather and its polar ice caps.
But we all want to see beyond our own ice caps, and for that, we need telescopes with more specialized instruments. Enter the great space paparazzo, the Hubble Space Telescope. Hubble snaps detailed pictures of space in infrared, visible and ultraviolet light. The telescope has caught everything from colliding asteroids to the first organic molecule on an exoplanet.
Goddard scientists helped build another great imager, the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), which measures cosmic microwaves and helped pinpoint the age of our universe. In yet another view of space, Goddard runs the Swift telescope, which captures gamma ray bursts, showing us what happens when stars die.
Your stop is the Goddard visitors' center, where you'll bask in color. You’ll see Hubble’s images of galaxies, planets, comets and supernovae. Admission is free. If you want to tour the space center itself and possibly see a satellite being built, you’ll need to come with a school, community or cultural group and to call ahead [sources: Goddard "Welcome," Goddard "Visitor FAQ"].
It’s time to park the car, preferably at the Greenbelt Metro station. You don’t want the headache of parking at our next stop, and besides, it’s just a short subway ride away.