Downey celebrates relocation of space shuttle mock-up

DOWNEY - It was the nose of a 128-ft. space shuttle slowly appearing from behind Downey Studios that brought an eager crowd to its feet. As the first full-scale space shuttle inched towards its temporary home adjacent to the Columbia Memorial Space Center, the audience of nearly 200 people awaiting the historic relocation could hardly contain their enthusiasm.

"We are excited to have this historic shuttle on display here in Downey," said Mayor Roger Brossmer. "Our city is proud to have such a rich aerospace history and we hope that this is the first of several steps to getting a permanent home for our mock-up."

Last Thursday, the 40-year-old replica of a NASA space shuttle belonging to the city of Downey was moved out of storage and into a temporary tent facility for public viewing until funding for a permanent home can be secured.

City officials commemorated the relocation with a day-long celebration for the community. With the Warren High School band playing lively tunes in the foreground, kids were invited to participate in interactive exhibits hosted by the city.

Built in 1972 by Rockwell International, the space shuttle mock-up has remained in storage at Downey Studios for decades and the city hopes to eventually restore the full-size shuttle, which was used until the 1990s for detailed engineering fittings and testing.

"This was truly a labor of love," said Councilman Mario Guerra while reading a history of the mock-up. "This is the genesis of our great space program. Reagan's been here, Nixon's been here, every astronaut would come here as great conquering heroes... this is where imagination takes flight."

With the space shuttle in place, the Columbia Memorial Space Center can now pave the way for the next generation of explorers, engineers, and scientists, Guerra said.

As the engineering birthplace of both the Apollo program and the space shuttle, the former NASA site, now Downey Studios, played a vital role in the evolution of space flight and exploration.

During the ceremony, Charles Cheathem, lead engineer during the space shuttle project, shared his experience designing and constructing the mock-up from 1970-72.

"This is truly a historic day," said Cheathem, one of three African-Americans who oversaw the project. "As I recall, there were four African-Americans, two American Indians, several Hispanics, one woman, and some white folks."

Cheathem, 82, joined the space shuttle program after working on the Apollo space missions.

"This was the workhorse for all the NASA space shuttle missions, the liaison between the design and the final product," Cheathem said motioning towards the shuttle. "The public will be able to view the work we did 40 years ago."

Cheathem said he believed the shuttle mock-up could inspire generations of youth to embrace science and "achieve greater heights in the future."

Engineer and professor Roland Beanum, Cheathem's right-hand man during the mock-up project, also spoke during the relocation ceremony, imploring Downey officials to remember him and the other space shuttle engineers once restoration of the mock-up begins.

"You have us - let us get involved," he said. "The mock-up needs a lot of TLC to bring it back, don't forget us." However, the city needs to figure out how to pay for a permanent housing facility, which is expected to cost more than $2 million.

During his remarks, Brossmer encouraged residents to donate towards the new facility, which will also house other aerospace treasures hidden inside Building 1 at the former NASA site.

"Having this exciting Shuttle Mock-Up attraction next to the Columbia Memorial Space Center will not only help further the space center's educational programs, but it will provide visitors with a unique experience that will help engage and inspire the next generation of explorers," Brossmer said. "We want this excitement to spread. Let's all be a part of this history together."

********** Published: July 19, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 14