At Waco’s New Challenger Center, Kids Take Over Mission Control

It’s the third center of its kind, meant to continue the teaching mission of the Challenger’s crew, who died in the shuttle explosion in 1986.

By Rhonda FanningOctober 20, 2016 12:02 pm

Waco now has a new Mission Control, but the crew may look younger than you’d imagine.

At the Challenger Learning Center, kids learn math and science through simulated space missions. It’s the third center like it in Texas, founded by families of astronauts who died in the 1986 Challenger explosion.

The center’s director Trey Pearson says family members of those lost in the 1986 Challenger explosion wanted to memorialize their loved ones through these projects. The center continues the teaching mission of the Challenger, headed by Christa McAuliffe.

“She was a teacher that applied to be an astronaut and went through the process,” Pearson says. “She was going to be teaching two 15-minute lessons from space that were going to be broadcasted.”

After the disaster, the foundation formed these centers to give students hands-on experiences to inspire young people to pursue science in their studies and careers. Students can either take part in a space mission or enter the simulator – a model of the space station – where they can perform experiments and follow the scientific method.

“Everything is patterned to give them the sense that they are astronauts and they are working in the space industry,” Pearson says.

Each student has a job in the simulation, working in teams to accomplish the mission. “We want to put them in a position where they can critically think through and use the concepts that we are covering with them,” Pearson says.

Once they return to school, students will have better “hard” science, analysis and processing skills, as well as “soft” skills like teamwork and communication.

These lessons, Pearson says, can be expanded outside of the classroom. “In a bigger step-back kind of success, what we are looking to do is keep a technical workforce up to date,” he says.

Post by John Flynn.