BROWNSBURG — BROWNSBURG — Fifth-grade students at Kingsway Christian School in Avon were not yet born when one of the darkest moments in our nation’s space program occurred.
Seven astronauts died Jan. 28, 1986, when the space shuttle Challenger exploded just 73 seconds into its mission. It was especially horrific to the millions of teachers and students who were watching on TV to witness Christa McAuliffe, a high school teacher from New Hampshire, become the first teacher in space.
That tragedy has turned into an educational opportunity as Challenger Learning Centers across the country honor the legacies of those taken with math, science, and space education daily. On Friday, those 48 centers, including a brand new Louisville location, commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Challenger disaster with a day of special services and activities.
The Brownsburg Challenger Learning Center (BCLC) hosted fifth-graders from Kingsway Christian School. Students flew in two “Return to the Moon” missions where they simulated being aboard a space shuttle and in the control room. Students were also treated to a greeting from former president George H.W. Bush and Dr. June Scobee Rodgers, widow of Challenger Commander Dick Scobee.
“It’s very important that students understand why this place exists,” said Mary Patterson of the BCLC.
The students also had an opportunity to work on one of McAuliffe’s lessons that she planned to teach from space. Students learned about chromatography and how microgravity affected the experiment.
“The beauty of what we do here is that they do a lot of learning in the classroom, but here they apply that learning,” said Patterson.
Ceremonies also took place in Houston, Albuquerque, and Florida, where Rodgers also conducted a news conference. A commemorative service to honor the crew was held at the Space Mirror Memorial at Kennedy Space Center’s Visitor’s Complex.
The loss of Challenger was later attributed to a failed seal on one of the space shuttle’s solid rocket boosters. An investigation board found that the cold weather prevented a rubber O-ring from maintaining its seal, allowing hot gas to leak and damage the shuttle’s external fuel tank and the hardware that attached the booster to the shuttle. When that booster separated from the shuttle, the fuel tank broke apart, causing the orbiter to be torn apart by aerodynamic stress.
The Challenger Center for Space Science Education is a not-for-profit education organization created in 1986 by the families of the astronauts from the Space Shuttle Challenger “Teacher in Space” mission STS-51-L. It develops centers and educational programs worldwide to encourage learning in science, engineering, technology, and math. The Brownsburg Challenger Learning Center opened in November 1994. The center’s teaching staff flies approximately 300 missions per year.