The United States space program took its first catastrophic hit in 1986 when the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up minutes after takeoff. About 17 years later, the second major blow to the space program happened on February 1, 2003. The Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated the instant it tried to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere. All seven crew members on the Columbia mission died. Columbia’s 28th mission was marred by the breaking of a piece of insulation from the shuttle’s external fuel tank. The debris smashed into the left wing of the orbiter, which initiated the firestorm that killed the seven astronauts.
The Columbia Memorial Space Center not only honors the brave astronauts that perished in 2003, it also represents a highly popular educational venue that teaches visitors of all ages about outer space and the missions sent to discover the mysteries of other planets.
Overview of the Columbia Memorial Space Center
Owned and operated by the City of Downey, California, the Columbia Memorial Space Center is located at 12400 Columbia Way. The primary purpose of the space center is to provide visitors with interactive learning experiences, as well as organize daily activities to spark interest in the United States space program. The former Rockwell North American plant where engineers designed and constructed every Apollo Command/Services modules converted into the museum. The 18,000 square foot project broke ground and 2007 and opened its doors to the public nearly a year later.
As a Challenger Learning Center, the museum strives to organize camps and run workshops to generate interest in STEM and additional interactive exhibits. Unlike other museums dedicated to space travel, the Columbia Memorial Space Center educates by encouraging participation in small group activities. As of 2018, the museum has increased in size by more than 2,000 square feet to display more exhibits. The two-story structure includes a robotics laboratory, high definition computer laboratory, and a wide variety of hands-on exhibits that present amazing insights into the Space Shuttle program. Visitors get a first-hand look at what it is like to work and live on a shuttle, as well as operate many of its controls. Kansas Cosmosphere restored the dummy boilerplate Apollo command capsule, which was the first Apollo capsule to enter outer space.
In addition to the educational exhibits, the museum hosts numerous special events throughout the year. The next big event is on Friday, March 23 at 6:30 PM. National Geographic unveils the long-anticipated documentary One Strange Rock. Award-winning moviemaker Darren Aronofsky presents a thrilling journey that digs deep into the fragile wonder called Earth. The spectacularly shot documentary takes you to some of the most unusual places found in the universe.
Columbia Memorial Space Center opens at 10 AM Tuesday through Saturday. Doors close at 5 PM, except when the museum has scheduled a special event at night. Guests of Hollywood Burbank take Interstate 5 south for about 15 miles, before exiting Weston Imperial Highway. Take Imperial Highway for about a mile and then take Clark Avenue north a few blocks to the museum.