California Space Center Tackles the 'Hidden Figures' Problem

Columbia Memorial Space Center in Downey, California, honors those we lost, as well as those who made space travel possible. Currently, it's paying tribute to Shelby Jacobs, an African-American mechanical engineer who played a crucial role in the 1968 Apollo 6 launch.

For 70 years, airplanes and space shuttles were built in the Los Angeles suburb of Downey, including the command and service modules for all 17 Apollo missions. But by December 1999, its last aerospace company—Boeing—had closed up shop.

The City of Downey became determined to pay homage to the region's influence on the space industry. Plans were underway for an interactive space center on the grounds of the former Boeing plant when tragedy struck on Feb. 1, 2003. The Columbia Space Shuttle disintegrated upon re-entry to the Earth's atmosphere, killing all seven of its crew.

"The Columbia mission was responsible for more science than all the earlier shuttles," according to Ben Dickow, president of what is now the Columbia Memorial Space Center (CMSC).

Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the 20,000-square-foot CMSC remembers those we lost, but also features computing and robotics labs, and a wide range of interactive exhibits related to human and robotic space exploration. There's also an in-depth look at how astronauts (and the robots we met at NASA's Ames Research Center) live and work on the International Space Station. And as we begin Black History Month, the center honors an African-American mechanical engineer who worked on the 1968 Apollo 6 launch.

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