Columbia Memorial Space center

For a number of years now I have been enjoying event set up by Atlas Obscura. There is so much to explore in the LA area, I’m just scratching the surface.

Years ago I had been on another tour in south LA and it was mentioned that the whole space program, as in building the Capsules, rockets and shuttles happened here. So I signed up for this tour in Downey.In an area, the size of Disneyland was the birthplace of American Space exploration. Today, there is a hospital, large sports facility and a huge outdoor shopping mall. Oh and this little museum.All of the Apollos and the shuttles were built here. This one, sitting outside was the first to leave the atmosphere and come back intact.Here is Bill, the head of this museum. He is showing us a very important artifact, this is the coupling mechanism for the Apollo. I can’t explain it all, but somehow, this small device is what allowed the space program to jettison the boosters while leaving earths atmosphere, while being able to come back again. As I said, I can’t explain it, it’s a small thing thing that made a very big difference.

The LA area is the birthplace of a lot of the aerospace industry, during WWII this facility was busy cranking out airplanes. Afterwards, the push was to explore rockets and then space travel.

By the 1980s’ the space exploration industry was in major decline. It’s hard to describe how the death of this industry had such a massive effect on the region, hundreds of thousands of jobs gone over night. So by the year 2000 this museum was in the planning stages. Once the Columbia was lost in 2003, the Federal government designated this site as the official Federal memorial to the Columbia. The Columbia first flew in in 1981, had 28 missions and in 2003 the tragic end over Texas, killing all seven astronauts.

This image is of one of the successful liftoffs. It is made out of thousands of images of that last crew of seven who didn’t make it back. An image of the crew, which included an Indian woman and the famed Israeli pilot, Ilan Ramon.Of course, I have a special place in my heart for a fellow Israeli who flew this mission. He was part of the mission in the 1980s who bombed the nuclear reactor in Iraq. The world condemned Israel no end for that, although in private, I’m sure the world sighed a sigh of relief.  Condemning Israel for anything is what the world does.  Then, years later, one of his sons’ was killed while training with the Israeli air force. Life has not been kind to his wife, Rona.This museum is a hands-on location that is great for children, they have a robotics lab, they have all kinds of things to do. There is a real gap, these days kids don’t care much about space exploration, it’s just not in the conscientiousness of this generation. That is what happens when the world turns it’s attention to other pursuits. These days, it’s SpaceX and Space Virgin, private companies that are exploring opportunities.  The government is too busy wasting money on anything else it can. Not that space exploration is a waste, but most government spending these days is.Joel by the suit.Me in the suit, well, I’m not suited up, there is a ladder in the back. It’s just a photo op.Snoopy the Astrobeagle became a mascot for NASA. Oh and that table? I just got the corner of it, but this is a very large conference table that was used here at the facility. In the movie Apollo 11, the table is in Houston, but in reality, it was in Downey. When the trouble started on the capsule, all the info about the Apollo 11 was poured out on this table and the engineers who had worked on actual capsule put their heads together and came up with the solutions that Houston passed on the guys up in space.

Oh, and manned missions to Mars aren’t happening anytime soon. It’s not the money (well, that is part of it), it’s the radiation. The manned missions to the moon were exposed to radation for almost two weeks – and came back still healthy. The mission to Mars would be months – that amount of radiation is a death sentence to any human. Which is why JPL is doing all those unmanned missions. Who knows if at some point someone solves the radiation problem in space.

Leah

One thought on “Columbia Memorial Space center”

  1. Leah, thank you for sharing your visit to the memorial. I have a soft spot for all things NASA, ever since I toured JPL on a grade school field trip.

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