Greats Balls of Fire exhibit opens at space center

DOWNEY - One had only to see the excited faces of the initial wave of elementary school kids out on their science field trips to Downey's Columbia Memorial Space Center on Tuesday to realize the ever-accelerating impact the center is having on curious young minds (and their parents and teachers) coming from places near and far.Tuesday was the opening here of the "Great Balls of Fire: Comets, Asteroids, and Meteors" national traveling exhibit designed and mounted by the Space Science Institute's National Center for Interactive Learning (lasting through Sept. 16), and selected K-8 kids from Towers Elementary School (representing Torrance), Gompers Elementary School (Long Beach), West Park Elementary (Irvine), and Jefferson School (Paramount) were divided into groups of 30 to view the various exhibits that would whet any appetite, student or otherwise. The time frames for the groups were from 10 a.m.-noon, and from 12-2 p.m., giving them a chance to look at the center's other regular attractions (the Challenger Learning Center, "Mission Control," the Robotics Lab, etc.). If they hadn't been properly reminded by their supervising teachers to behave or restrained from running to the inviting attractions, it's not inconceivable that some of the kids would have actually ran, instead of walked, to the exhibit of their choice. Easily the exhibit that fascinated the kids most was climbing into a "spaceship" and "blasting off to the asteroid belt and Jupiter, on a mission to gather data about asteroids and comets," shown on a large screen. Another popular attraction was viewing clips from Hollywood movies ("Armageddon," "Deep Impact," etc,), and determining if they got the science right. This reporter had the chance to ask a couple of fourth graders from Towers Elementary what they were looking at. One, Katie Ishioka, pointed to the "Fact or Fiction" exhibit that gave information about the different sizes of the asteroids, comets, and meteors, and said this fascinated her. The other, Melknine Mikkelson, said she found the globe depicting the various planets "interesting." The group, said the accompanying teacher, was a late end-of-school-year treat for the school's GATE program. The displays included brief descriptions and explanations of the subjects. A sheet of FAQ's, however, provided more details. For instance, a "meteor" is the "streak of light in the sky visible to viewers; they are often called shooting stars and are quite small." Asteroids are "metallic, rocky bodies that are most often located in the Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter...There are 26 known large asteroids (these are over 124 miles, or 200 kms., in diameter..." Comets are composed of "rock, ice and gaseous particles and originate in the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune's orbit and the Oort Cloud at the solar system's edge. Both asteroids and comets formed during the formation of the solar system, along with the planets and moons." Bookings for this latest Columbia Memorial Space Center exhibit, according to the center's Kaili Torres, have actually spilled over to some Mondays, when the center is supposed to be closed. She said the center's accumulated a visitors' database. Those people are sent e-mails to announce upcoming center events and is proving to be an effective promo medium, in addition to timely press releases and mailings to different school districts all over. Because of its special relationship with the Downey Unified School District, Downey students of course are the first ones to know about the center's programs and projects, such as its established Summer Space Camp scheduled in July-August, its second annual "Rocket Fever,"-the all-day rocketry extravaganza slated for July 21, featuring both indoor (rocket-building class, interactive exhibits, raffles) and outdoor (rocket competitions, public rocket launches, Space Shuttle jumper) activities. In cutting the ribbon formally opening Tuesday's exhibit, Councilman Mario Guerra took the opportunity to laud Coca-Cola's increasing role in the cultural life of the city, while he outlined the significance of the Columbia Memorial Space Center, and Downey's place in the history of aerospace.

********** Published: June 14, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 09