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California Aerospace Site to Memorialize Columbia Space Shuttle's Crew Killed in 2003

The Ultimate Test Flight: NASA's Shuttle Fleet at 25
NASA's Columbia orbiter launches skyward on April 12, 1981 on NASA's first-ever shuttle flight, STS-1. Commanding the 54-hour mission was astronaut veteran John Young with then-rookie flyer Robert Crippen as pilot.
(Image: © NASA.)

DOWNEY, California (AP) - This blue-collar California city is reclaiming its aerospace past by converting part of acomplex into a memorial and the first education center dedicated to the 2003 Columbia disaster that killed seven astronauts.

A ceremonial groundbreakingfor the Columbia Memorial Space Science & Learning Center was scheduledThursday.

The Columbia families say it is appropriate because the astronauts spent 16 days in orbitconducting science experiments. Shuttle flights since have focused on finishingconstruction of the international space station.

"This crew, inparticular, has always been an ardent supporter of education. A science centerwould certainly be a fitting tribute to their legacy,'' said Dr. JonClark, an ex-NASA flight surgeon and widower of astronaut LaurelBlair Salton Clark.

The 160-acre (65-hectare)complex 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of downtown Los Angeles, opened in 1929and was primarily involved in aircraft manufacturing and missile design. Duringthe space race, it played a key role in development of the Apollo program andlater, the space shuttle fleet.

The site for the $12million (euro8.9 million) center, paid for by NASA and the city, was chosen bya Congressional resolution in 2004. It is expected to open in summer 2008.

Design plans reveal afuturistic-looking, two-story building nestled in a 13-acre (5.3-hectare) parkon the former site that has since been redeveloped into a shopping center,movie studio and medical complex. The facade will be made of steel, glass andaluminum to invoke the feeling of openness.

"The goal is to givethe impression of space and the space shuttle,'' said Alex Guerrero, executivevice president of Tower General Contractors, which is building the sciencecenter.

Interactive exhibits areplanned including a simulated space mission and a Mars robotic lab.

Columbia broke apart during re-entry on Feb.1, 2003, raining debris over Texas and Louisiana. Investigators determined itsleft wing was gashed by fuel-tank foam insulation during liftoff, allowingfiery gases to penetrate the shuttle.

  • STS-107 Columbia Disaster

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