Smithsonian exhibit opens at Downey space center

DOWNEY – Coinciding with the ninth anniversary of the ill-fated Columbia space shuttle that carried a crew of seven and broke up during re-entry over a swath of Texas on Feb. 1, 2003, Downey’s Columbia Memorial Space Center last week held the ribbon-cutting of its latest exhibit, "Suited for Space", which celebrates the vital role and evolution of what has been dubbed as the ultimate life support system, the spacesuit.
The exhibit formally opened to the public Feb. 2.
Developed by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service in collaboration with the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, the stop in Downey is part of a 13-city traveling exhibit that premiered in April 2011 at the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago and doesn’t end until October 2015 at an as yet undetermined venue. The stop in Downey is its third.
The national exhibition tour is generously supported by the conglomerate, DuPont, which was responsible for much of the protective material that went into the making of the spacesuit.
The Suited for Space exhibit, set up on the space center’s second floor, features a collection of large information-rich images of the various spacesuits worn over the years by NASA’s spacefarers from the Mercury program to Apollo and Skylab, x-rays showing their seldom seen interior construction, spacesuit-associated objects and artifacts, a photo-op allowing one to take a photograph of oneself wearing an Apollo spacesuit, as well as walk in Buzz Aldrin’s footsteps on moon soil.
Space center executive director Scott Pomrehn served as emcee at the grand opening, while Mayor Roger Brossmer gave the opening remarks.
Special guest Harold Closter, a 32-year careerist at Smithsonian and the director of Smithsonian Affiliations since 2004, pointed out the importance of keeping the narrative of space exploration alive. It was learned that it was he who was mainly responsible for facilitating the traveling exhibit’s visit to Downey.
Closter in fact made it official: the Downey space center has been welcomed as a collaborative partner within the Smithsonian Affiliations family, meaning the Columbia Memorial Space Center will henceforth share in the institution’s national outreach programs aimed at enriching communities with Smithsonian scholars, public programs, and professional development opportunities. Affiliates are to be found across the nation, he said, several of them in the state of California.
Closter further explained that the spacesuit exhibit is a marked departure from the usual run of space exhibits. He said the shift in emphasis to the seldom highlighted role of the spacesuit, which is designed to protect the astronaut from the hostile environment of space, is long overdue.
He said the marvelous innovative engineering and technological improvements that went into the spacesuit’s construction is a testament to the creativity and brilliant ingenuity of the dedicated men and women who made it happen.
Meanwhile, Brossmer briefly traced the links to the space-related past some in the audience have and paid tribute to the significant strides the space center has made under the effective leadership of Pomrehn and his hardworking crew, as well as to the members of the hard-hitting city staff, without whose efforts “none of this would come to be.”
Others in attendance were council members Mario Guerra and Fernando Vasquez, a few members of the city’s officialdom, members of the board of the Columbia Memorial Space Center Foundation, and assorted invited guests including officials of the Downey Chamber of Commerce, and space aficionados.
Tickets to the center are $5 each, with discounts given to groups of 20 or more. For information, contact (562) 231-1200 or e-mail

Published: February 2, 2012 - Volume 10 - Issue 42