Visiting the Columbia Memorial Space Center
When I was kid watching Nickelodeon I would constantly see the same commercial for space camp. Although I never harbored dreams of becoming an astronaut space camp looked awfully cool. Who doesn’t want to build rockets, wear space suits and eat astronaut ice cream? I never made it to space camp (I did try the ice cream – it was disappointing) but luckily there are some local places where I can still live out my outer space fantasies. On Saturday, I headed to the Columbia Memorial Space Center in Downey with a pair of junior astronauts to check it out.
Did you know that Downey played an important role in the space race? It was home to a huge NASA Industrial Plant where all the Apollo Command/Service Modules were built and later the space shuttle was developed. It was home to thousands of workers who helped shape America’s space program until it closed in 1999.
Today there’s little evidence of the city’s cosmic past save for the Columbia Memorial Space Center. Opened in 2009 on the former NASA site it’s a museum devoted to all things outer space.
In prior research I noticed the museum had many hands-on exhibits so I decided to bring my favorite 8 and 5 year old with me to have some fun.
We arrived on the perfect day because noted NASA engineer Shelby Jacobs happened to be on site. You know those famous photos of planet earth from space? You can thank Mr. Jacobs for those as he designed the camera systems that captured them. The kids were excited to be in the presence of a real NASA engineer and we enjoyed looking at a special exhibit devoted to his career.
The boys were also excited to start trying out all the interactive exhibits. The museum was built with kids in mind and the majority of the activities are aimed at helping them with their STEM education. But most of all, they’re fun. I honestly don’t think they realized they were learning the whole time we were there.
Over the course of our visit they flew planes, explored Mars, landed space shuttles and so much more.
I must admit, as a jaded adult, I was afraid they might be bored. The museum is on the smaller side and, as I said, most of the activities are educational. Boy, was I wrong! They were in 7th heaven. They played and played and played and, finally, I had to be the one to drag them away.
The Columbia Memorial Space Center is a fitting tribute to Downey’s aerospace legacy. With a nod to the area’s historic past and a devotion to educating our future scientists and engineers it’s an important Southern California institution. This hidden gem made two boys very happy and they learned something, too. What more could I ask for?