Astrodome, World's '8th Wonder,' Lies Abandoned (PHOTOS)

Dubbed the "Eighth Wonder of the World," the Reliant Astrodome continues to sit abandoned, a ghost of its former self -- once host to 50,000-plus crowds for baseball, football, basketball and even tennis.

The stadium first opened in 1965 as the "Harris County Domed Stadium" to host Major League Baseball's Houston Astros. The franchise's sale to former Houston Mayor Roy Hofheinz was predicated on construction of the innovative building, on the premise that Houston's scorching temperatures and oppressive humidity made major league play in an open-air stadium unattractive.

Designed by Hermon Lloyd & W.B Morgan, and Wilson, Morris, Crain and Anderson, the Reliant Astrodome is 18 stories high and sprawls 9.5 acres. The structure was the forerunner of other domed stadiums such as the Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit and the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, which notoriously housed thousands of people fleeing Hurricane Katrina.

The Astrodome spurred the popularization of AstroTurf -- a synthetic turf originally called Chemgrass -- even in open-air stadiums. The sport surface was installed in the venue because the dome's cover inhibited the growth of natural grass.

Billie Jean King and Muhammad Ali both won in the Astrodome, as did the University of Houston Cougars in what's been called NCAA basketball's "Game of the Century." Since being retired as a sports stadium in the early 2000s, after its home teams migrated to other sports venues, the Astrodome has faced an identity crisis, languishing without a clear purpose. One proposal called for converting the structure into an amusement park (as Germany did with a nuclear plant).

But no firm plans to breath new life into the historic structure have materialized, and in the meantime, the world's first domed stadium has deteriorated to the extent that visitors must sign waivers to enter it. The Houston Press recently took a tour through the abandoned, deteriorating Astrodome, shooting the photos in the above gallery that capture the building's now ghostly atmosphere.

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