Space center landing party lives up to the hype

Looking for an inexpensive and family-friendly alternative location to view the Entry, Descent and Landing of the Mars Science Laboratory's rover Curiosity, I was told about the Columbia Memorial Space Center in Downey.I was expecting a small crowd, a large TV, and a bunch of people just watching, waiting for the announcement that we'd landed, and then everyone would just kind of dissipate. I was wrong. We arrived a couple of minutes before 9:30 p.m. to a line out the door, and a couple hundred feet down the sidewalk toward the hospital. Holy Cow! We started being let in, and the staff at the door was calm and efficient, and got us all in the door a little faster than I expected they would. There seemed to be more response than anticipated, but the staff replied with pulling chairs and even stools out of hidden places to make room for the crowd. In the end, they were stacked in the back three deep, standing room only. We joined the show already in progress. As we were walking in, I saw Jared Head talking about the feats that are going on here. His information was relatable, and clear, and his delivery was confident and entertaining. We found our seats, and were immediately captivated by his delivery of the information that he was conveying. He pulled up the website with the simulation, and he explained all of the steps that were going to have to happen in order for the rover to touch down safely. Jared's passion for the subject matter was clear, and infectious. I looked around a couple of times during the presentation and saw most everyone enthralled with what was being presented to them, and you could tell that the gears were turning. After Jared completed his presentation, he answered a couple of really good questions from the audience, and finished just in time to watch the beginning of the NASA TV coverage of the control room during landing. He interjected some additional information or clarification several times throughout EDL, which was very helpful to understanding what was happening, and the magnitude of what we were witnessing. The excitement and tension in the control room could be felt in Downey as they made calls of mission milestones, and critical readings - you could see that Jared was getting really excited as well. (Confession: I was getting really excited too, and I was quite nervous for the whole MSL team) Even as things started happening quicker and quicker, it was hard for me to concentrate on what was happening over the urge to stand up and clap loudly, but I noticed that Jared was continually live-tweeting the event and the actions for @downeyspace; posting photos, and information like a wild man. I glanced from the screen to Jared the instant before it was confirmed that the rover had landed, and he was coiled, ready to jump in the air. The call was made, and he repeatedly jumped up and down, and everyone in the room erupted in clapping, high-fives all around, and wild cheers for the Scientists and Engineers that made this accomplishment possible. The feeling in the room was electric! Much of the crowd dissipated after the landing before the press conference directors were able to calm the EDL team down enough to be able to interview them, and Jared was good enough to stick around and answer more questions from the remaining crowd. He did his homework, and had answers to all of the questions that were thrown at him with amazing accuracy, and proper quickness, and it was boiled down to where the lay-person understood the details, without reducing the accuracy of technical content of the information that he was presenting. He did a fantastic job, and I was glad to have been there for the event. The staff was friendly and courteous, and very accommodating for the large crowd, and it was a very good value for the price of admission.

********** Published: August 09, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 17

FeaturesEric Pierce