Friday, January 28, 2011
The anniversary of the loss of space shuttle Challenger was marked with remembrance of the past and a renewed interest in the education of today's youth at Georgia's own Challenger Center for education.
One of forty-eight Challenger Centers across North America and the United Kingdom, Columbus State University's Coca-Cola Space Science Center hosted a brief ceremony to honor the fallen astronauts twenty-five years ago on January 28.
On hand for the remembrance ceremony was former NASA astronaut Alfred Worden who flew to the moon aboard Apollo 15. As he stayed in lunar orbit for thee days in July 1971, his two ship mates flew down and landed their module on the surface of the moon.
Worden spoke to the children of a local school on Friday before they entered a special set of rooms to undertake a fun yet challenging Mission to Mars simulation.
"It's the field trip of a life time for most of these children," stated the mission's flight director and center volunteer Neal Garner at the conclusion of the hour long simulation.
The Challenger Center runs several simulations a day for both the local schools, and schools over one hundred miles away, to promote team work, self confidence and to get a first hand look at how science and math works.
"It's just an honor to represent the (Challenger) crew and talk to the children," Garner said. "To carry on their legacy, it inspires me everyday."
Garner estimates the center averages nearly 200 simulated missions a year.
One mission which was close to Challenger's crew is the center's Mission to a Comet simulation.
The seven astronauts were to have deployed a space satellite to study Haley's comet and it's ultraviolet light. The satellite never made it to space.
The Challenger center steps up and sends the children on a mission to build and deploy a satellite to study the comet Encke. Using technologies such as computers, television monitors, sound and lights, the grade school children can feel the mission as it unfolds.
In the years that followed Challenger's ill-fated launch, the families of the seven crew members began the Challenger Center for space science education.
"They're making math and science fun for our young students," Jennifer Copley exclaimed as she toured the center's lobby filled with space memorabilia including the forward section of a space shuttle orbiter which houses a theater inside.
"The families thought it was important to begin the centers," Garner added. "I'm representing them everyday."
As the clock ticked past 11:39 a.m. on Friday -- the moment Challenger broke apart 25 years earlier -- the children's interest in science and space increased during a question and answer session with Mr. Garner.
Garner reflects on the children who, as they walk away from a mission, say that they, too, want to be an astronaut. "When I hear that, I ... We're here to inspire."
The Columbus Challenger Center also offers the Mead Observatory complete with a Meade 16-inch LX200 telescope; a solar observatory and the Omnisphere Theater featuring a documentary on Black Holes.
Visit Challenger.org or Columbus' Space Science Center's site for more detailed information including locations, astronomy programs, and show times of select movies.