Trip report: The Challenger Learning Center at San Antonio College 3

Who would love an immersive, interactive, hands-on educational experience about space and STEM?!? Almost every kid and future rocket scientist that I know!

Last week I had the great experience of getting a tour and doing an AIAA Engineers as Educators workshop at the Challenger Learning Center at San Antonio College.  This center is part of the Scobee Education Center (more on that below).

This Challenger Learning Center is one of 40 Challenger Centers across the world.  Why didn’t I know more about these before my visit?!?  I’m not sure, but I’m doing my little part here to give them more exposure and promotion.  If you have one of these in your city or within travel distance, and you have kids in grades 5-12 in your life, we need you to be a linchpin and make a field trip happen to your nearest Challenger Center!

These centers host groups of up to 32 students for a two-hour experience.  This Center in San Antonio is the updated and improved version.  Most other Centers have an older design.  I can’t say how similar they are to this, but this one has a mission control room, a launch vehicle room, and a space station room.  Half of the class spends time in the mission control room while the other half is in the space station.  Then they switch and get to spend equal time in the other space.

Here is our group in the mission control room.  The students sit at the tables and each have a role to play.  They go through a realistic simulation of a mission (after a little training and orientation).

Challenger Learning Center at SAC 1

Challenger Learning Center at SAC 1

Here we are in the space station looking at the clean room and one of the science stations:

Scobee Challenger Learning Center

Scobee Challenger Learning Center


Here is another interactive science station.  There are rubber gloves you use to manipulate things inside the enclosed compartment.  That was a lot of fun to try and work with the tools and instruments inside of the compartments.

Challenger Center at SAC 3

Challenger Center at SAC 3


For the AIAA workshop, we worked in teams to create a Martian lander out of a small kit of materials.  The objective was to prevent the astronaut (a large marshmallow) from falling out of the Dixie cup when you drop it from a height of 2 feet above the floor.  Of course we had to see who could do better than that.  But most of our teams weren’t successful at the 2 foot height!  Here is my team’s lander.  Once we put the roll cage on it did great. 🙂

AIAA workshop lander design

AIAA workshop lander design

If you care about aerospace, rocket science, and STEM education, go to the AIAA website for STEM K-12 Outreach and get involved.  Follow the link for either students, parents, or teachers and take advantage of what’s there.

Our workshop was meant to give educators and professionals a set of curricula and materials to help kids learn and do STEM activities with a space or aeronautics theme.  We had a great group of professionals, retirees, volunteers, and teachers in our group.

We also had a special guest!  Sandy Magnus, the President of AIAA (and former astronaut) gave a great presentation about diversity in the Scobee planetarium.  If you took a complete look at the Women in Space website I blogged about earlier, you will find here there.

The Scobee Education Center is named in honor of Challenger Space Shuttle Commander Dick Scobee and his widow June Scobee Rodgers.  She along with the other Challenger crew families founded Challenger Center after that shuttle tragedy.

We still need more rocket scientists!  And experiences such as those from the Challenger Center are a sure-fire way to both inspire and educate kids into a trajectory that can make a big difference for them–and us.  Look for one near you and give them a call.  Or as a Plan B, talk with your local AIAA Section about an Engineers as Educators workshop.

About Brett Rocket Scientist

Brett creates artful work in engineering, ideas, and innovation. In addition to 2 degrees, 3 patents, and over 15 years experience in aerospace engineering, he is the author of several books to foster STEM careers. He volunteers his time and skills as an officer with professional societies.

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