Downey space center to reopen with free admission

By Arnold Adler

Contributing Writer

DOWNEY — The Columbia Memorial Space Center, 12400 Columbia Way, will reopen July 9 with free admission through Sept. 7 during regular hours, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

The center has been closed since March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, although 85,000 people took part in the more than 600 online or virtual programs, said the center’s Executive Director Benjamin Dickow in a report to the City Council June 22.

Waiving the $5 regular entrance fee is aimed at welcoming back people to in-person experiences as “the public may have been disconnected from the Space Center facility after it has been closed for so much time, Dickow said in his report.

The waiver includes the current $3 fee to senior citizens. Children under 3 are free. Students and teachers also are free under past admissions policies.

The council approved the fee waiver at the first council meeting to be opened to the public since March 2020.

“The mission of the Columbia Memorial Space Center is to ignite a community of creative and critical thinkers,” Dickow said in his report. “Making access to the Space Center as easy as possible to all members of the community helps to fulfil that mission and strengthens the bond between community members and the programs of the center.”

He said the admission incentive is a way to welcome back patrons.

“We would like to welcome back as many people as possible to the new exhibits and programs of the Space Center,” Dickow said.

That includes a new virtual exhibit dedicated to the 40th anniversary of the Columbia Space Shuttle, said Center Supervissor Sarah Medina.

The Columbia Shuttle made 27 missions to space. It exploded Feb. 1, 2003, upon reentry to the Earth’s atmosphere, killing its nine-member crew.

“We have changed up our floors a bit,” Medina said. “We will have several make-and-take activities such as paper airplane and capsule building as well as a fun stomp rocket activity.

The Challenger Learning Center is currently closed but the center will be offering group Challenger virtual experiences soon, Medina added.

“We will be moving to in-person slowly with programming,” Medina said. “We have an early childhood program that has filled for the summer that will be offered in person. A lot of our programs through the summer will be virtual still.”

Constructed in 2009, the two-story facility is on part of the former  150-acre National Aeronautics and Space Administration site, where companies including North American Rockwell and Boeing designed and constructed spacecraft during the 1960s and 70s.

In his report, Dickow  said the free admission may result in the loss of about $11,000, based on income from the summer of 2019. But some of that should be recouped from the sale of items from the gift store or other reasons caused by attendance.

“In addition, the Space Center continues to pursue grant- funding through its nonprofit foundation,” he added.