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Spaceflight Comes To Schenectady

Lucas Willard
Students inside mission control at the Challenger Learning Center

A new addition to Schenectady’s Museum of Innovation and Science will give students the opportunity to participate in a simulated space mission.

Inside miSci’s new Challenger Learning Center students are working at “Mission Control,” talking over an intercom with another group of students aboard a simulated space station.

It’s part of a new 2-hour experience that is promoted as delivering a hands-on experience in science, technology, engineering, and math.

Based on NASA astronaut training, the Challenger Learning Center requires students to work together. Today, they’re attempting to land a space shuttle.

Dr. Lance Bush is president and CEO of the Challenger Center, the sponsor of the new experience at miSci. He said the students that sit down at mission control for the very first time may feel a bit flustered. But, he says, that’s to be expected.

“I tell ya, they walk in feeling intimidated or worried that they don’t know what to do ro they won’t be able to complete their test. And it’s not unfounded. This is rocket science. You train for your life to do it. But it’s great to watch them transform,” said Bush.

Bush said each student plays a critical role in each mission. They work together because they realize that if they don’t complete their task, the mission could fail.

The Challenger Center was formed in 1986 in honor of the crew of flight STS-51-L, the 25th flight of the space shuttle Challenger that exploded 73 seconds after liftoff.

Dr. Bush asked the crowd gathered at the unveiling a question.

“How many of you remembered where you where that accident happened?”

The older attendees in the audience raised their hands.

MiSci hopes the Challenger Learning Center will draw more visitors from across the Northeast. Dr. William “Mac” Sudduth, executive director of the museum says adults can use the program as well.

“It’s great for teambuilding missions. It’s like a ropes course except it’s not quite so strenuous.”

Sudduth said he hopes the hands-on approach will inspire students to enter the STEM fields. He talked about the beginning of his own career.

“Going from the classroom where it just me that had to do everything and into working with a group of scientists anda  team, that was a new experience. This is an opportunity to get a good preview to that. Plus it also excites them about careers in science. And we’re not going to make everyone into an astronaut or an engineer, but I think learning about science and technology will make you a good citizen.”

Charles Dedric, district superintendent of Capital Region BOCES, said students across the Capital Region will benefit from the new CLC.

“We’ve been trying to do something like this in the capital Region for years. I used to be the superintendent in the Cohoes city school district. I remember walking with a developer down on the riverfront and talking about the potential for something like this in some building projects. We were never able to get the traction to make this happen,” said Dedric.

That is until, said Dedric, he got a call from local philthropist Neil Golub. Along with Neil and Jane Golub, the Community foundation for the Greater Capital Region, Betty and David Apkarian, and other donors, the dream became a reality.

Missions at miSci are available for visitors of all ages. For more information visit: http://www.misci.org/educators-and-group/challenger-learning-center

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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