DOWNEY - Unless a group of middle schoolers out on a science trip were to purposely seek out Boilerplate 19 (BP-19) that stands sentry to the entrance of the Columbia Memorial Space Center, the space artifact would for the most part remain unobtrusive, unhonored, and unsung.Yet Downey is one of only a relatively few lucky space centers in the country that boast a boilerplate. In fact, it has not one but two boilerplates. They were built here in the early 60s. (A boilerplate is described as a nonfunctional craft or payload which is used to test various configurations and size, load, and handling characteristics of a space module prototype, before it is ready to be launched into space. It is also referred to as a test capsule). Thus boilerplates as much as anything are responsible for the entire manned and unmanned space missions that have produced some of the most awe-inspiring (and a few horrific) chapters in NASA's space program that have featured the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions. They are of course part and parcel of space lore. The story of BP19, which was built at the North American plant here in Downey, began as a test version of the Apollo space capsule that went to the moon, and was for years displayed at Lancaster's Apollo Park, until NASA deeded it to Downey. The gray-painted 12,000-lb. (with its concrete pad it weighs 24,000 lbs.) test vehicle, which was used in many parachute drop and recovery tests, was transported here in 2008. The metal mock-up of the real thing sat in the backyard of the space center until it was moved out front. Its main mission, according to councilman Luis Marquez (who was then city mayor when he dedicated it in February 2011) is "to teach visiting groups about the important role that the city of Downey has played in the aerospace history of our country." If nothing else, it and the other boilerplates are meant to "honor the legacy of all who worked at Downey to help America be the first nation to allow mankind to walk on the moon." Boilerplate 12, the other test capsule, which was used to test the so-called launch escape system of a transonic abort flight performance, was just recently gifted to Downey by NASA and is at present being refurbished at the Kansas Cosmosphere & Space Center in Hutchinson, Kansas, which has spacecraft repair capabilities. Space center executive director Scott Pomrehn says BP-12 is due to be transported back to Downey within six months. No decision has yet been made as to where it's going to be displayed. The role of the boilerplates is thus as rich as the space pageantry that's found inside the space museum. Right now it's hosting the "Suited for Space" traveling exhibit. Come summer, the center is expected to resound to the excited voices of the out-of-school kids as they sample science camp meant to spur their interest in math and science.
********** Published: February 16, 2012 - Volume 10 - Issue 44