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Challenger Learning Center offers an out-of-this-world experience

Challenger Learning Center offers an out-of-this-world experience
HARRY & LINDA KAYE PEREZ Students can man Mission Control during a visit to the Challenger Learning Center on the downtown campus of San Antonio College.

There are a total of 44 Challenger Learning Centers throughout the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and South Korea. But the center at the Scobee Planetarium on the campus of San Antonio College is on the cutting edge in advanced technology. The amazing programs that they offer here are geared to engage young minds in all areas of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

The core of each Challenger Learning Center is an interactive computerized simulator with a Mission Control room patterned after the NASA Johnson Space Center, and an orbiting space station ready for exploration. These hands-on facilities give students the chance to participate in dynamic simulated space missions and cultivate the skills needed for future success through teamwork and problem solving. It is befitting that this Learning Center was relocated after 10 years at the Brooks City Base to the newly renovated Scobee Planetarium. According to Planetarium Coordinator Bob Kelley, “This is where it was meant to be.”

This very special program targets fifth- through eighth-grade students to participate in a simulated space mission. School districts must submit a request for a specific date. The cost to the district is $500 approximately $15 per student and the Learning Center can schedule up to eight “missions” each week, led by a seasoned Flight Director.

Each mission starts with a group of 32 students, chosen by their teachers, who also have to undergo training prior to the event to prepare their students. The 2-1/2-hour mission begins with a NASA-style briefing; half of students proceed to Mission Control, don official-looking badges, and are assigned to one of the stations, such as Communications, Weather, Energy, Oceanography, and Cryogenics, just to name a few. With a push of a button, computers rise from the center of their workstations and their journey begins.

The other students slip into their space vests and enter into the transporter for their trip up to the space station. The transporter simulates the sights, sounds, and all the sensations of a blastoff from earth, the quietness of space, and then the distinctive thud of docking with the orbiting station. After docking, the crew enters the space station via an airlock and then a decontamination room. Once inside the space station, their “work” begins. Working together with Mission Control, there are many tasks that have to be performed and experiments to be accomplished.

Halfway into the mission, there is an emergency lights flash, emergency signs flash on all the computers, and sirens go off.

“We must get the crew back from the space station.”

Back into the transporter, the Space Station Crew prepares for the return trip to earth. Arriving at Mission Control, the emergency is resolved. This is the perfect time to switch crews the Mission Control crew goes up to the space station and the crew that just returned takes over Mission Control.

One of the major tasks for both crews is the building of a satellite that must be launched. Using remote cameras, Mission Control guides the Space Station Crew through a series of steps to assemble the satellite. Teamwork is essential to have a successful launch of the satellite and therefore, a successful mission, just like the astronauts.

As we were mesmerized with the idea of space travel, Bob Kelley mentioned that at the end of one mission, one of the young participants asked, “Did we really go into space?” That is how real the experience is, thanks to a well-trained staff, and all the Disney-type special effects. This is more than a game more than a day off from school. This program is inspiring curiosity in the minds of our future explorers.

Because there has been so much excitement about this Challenger Learning Center, there also is a plan to offer this experience to the general public. The first foray into this plan was a Valentine’s Day Wine and Cheese Couples Mission, offered on the center’s website in late January and sold out in three days. Mr. Kelley said there are more special events planned for the future, possibly a Mother’s Day and Father’s Day Mission, and definitely a Halloween Mission, where participants are invited to come as their favorite alien. There will be a charge for these special programs but the experience will be priceless. We are already in line!

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Find out about the planetarium and Challenger Center programs:


¢Challenger Centers worldwide: www.challenger.org

Challenger Learning Center

¢San Antonio College Campus, 1300 San Pedro Avenue, 210-486-0100


Harry and Linda Kaye Perez are freelance writers from just down the road from Floresville. Together they share a passion for traveling and writing, and discovering the very best in all corners of the world. Email them at Harry-Linda411@att.net.

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