Downey opens space education center

DOWNEY, Calif. For future astronauts and scientists, hands-on learning can be the best teacher.

"It's exciting for the city of Downey; it's part of our legacy, part of our culture, part of our history," said Downey Mayor Mario Guerra.

This is the mission of Downey's new Columbia Memorial Space Learning Center. The $10-million facility offers exhibits where visitors can learn about space science and exploration and even fly simulated space missions.

"I like seeing the stars and the planets; it's very cool," said Jasmyne Jennings, a visitor to the center.

City and community leaders took part in the ribbon cutting Friday of the new two-story learning center, named after the ill-fated crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia, which exploded in 2003.

"We need to remember those heroes; we need to remember them just like our armed forces. These are heroes that gave their lives for America and for the world," said Guerra.

The city of Downey has a long history of aviation ingenuity.

"Just across the street, twenty space ships were made, true space ships, the command modules for the Apollo program and all the crew modules for the space shuttles. So, one of the things we're hoping to teach kids about is the innovation from the past extending into the future," said Joe Betthauser, the executive director of the Columbia Space Center.

A big draw of the center is the replica of the international space station, where there is a robotics area to test hazardous materials and a glove box where experiments can be conducted. The replica also includes a "clean room" where astronauts assemble probes to be launched into space.

"What we really are doing is teaching but making it so much fun using space as the theme," said Pam Peterson, the western regional director of the Challenger Center.

"It's a wonderful experience," Peterson added.

It's an experience that many hope will encourage the next generation of space explorers.

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