The award-winning Challenger Learning Center-St. Louis provides simulated space missions, science education and teambuilding programs. The core experience at the center is a two-hour simulated space mission featuring an orbiting space station and a Mission Control center. All programs offered by the Challenger Learning Center provide meaningful and engaging science, technology, engineering, and math activities as well as a focus on team-building, cooperation, and critical and creative thinking skills. Programs are available for students, educators, corporations, scouts, community groups and the general public.
The Challenger Learning Center-St. Louis is part of the Challenger Center for Space Science Education, an international not-for-profit education organization founded in April 1986 by the families of the astronauts tragically lost during the Challenger space shuttle mission. The St. Louis location is part of a growing network of approximately 50 Challenger Learning Centers located throughout the world and serves groups throughout the greater St. Louis region.
Inspire the future generation of innovators
We accomplish this by:
- Providing simulated space missions and other “out-of-this-world”, hands-on programs emphasizing teamwork, communication, and creative problem-solving skills
- Sparking a lifelong interest in science and engineering by immersing participants in relevant, engaging educational programs
- Equipping educators with the knowledge, resources, and tools to help their students be innovative, successful lifelong learners
The Teacher in Space Project
Early in the 1980s, in an effort to better connect the American public with its space program, NASA began to investigate several options for sending an American civilian into space onboard the Space shuttle. NASA considered sending a journalist, an explorer, or an entertainer, but ultimately decided on sending a teacher as the first civilian in space.
President Reagan made the announcement inaugurating the Teacher in Space Project on August 27, 1984. An Announcement of Opportunity was distributed in November, and applications were accepted beginning the following month through February 1, 1985. More than 11,000 teachers applied for the opportunity to take a global classroom of students on the ultimate field trip.
Among the applicants was a high school social studies teacher from Concord, New Hampshire. After hearing about the Teacher in Space Project while attending a social studies conference in Washington, D.C., Christa McAuliffe submitted an application on the last day they were being accepted.
From the initial pool of applicants, 114 semi-finalists were selected. On July 19, 1985, Vice President George Bush announced that Christa McAuliffe would be the first teacher in space. Barbara Morgan, an elementary school teacher from Idaho, was selected as Christa’s backup.
McAuliffe’s training for her space mission began the following September. In the fall, she took a year long leave of absence from teaching and began training for STS-51-L, a mission scheduled for early 1986.
In an interview conducted during this training period, Dick Scobee, the Shuttle Commander, told a journalist, “The long term gain is getting expectations of the young people in this country to the point where they expect to fly in space, they expect to go there, they expect this country to pursue a program that allows it to be in space permanently to work and live there, to explore the planets.
As a member of the crew, Christa’s role was to teach several lessons from the Space shuttle to America’s classrooms. She planned on conducting two 15-minute lessons from orbit for broadcast as well as film various demonstrations on topics such as magnetism, Newton’s Law, and hydroponics in microgravity.
When asked about the potential response to her lessons, she replied, “I think it’s going to be very exciting for kids to be able to turn on the TV and see the teacher teaching from space. I’m hoping that this is going to elevate the teaching profession in the eyes of the public, and of those potential teachers out there, and hopefully, one of the maybe secondary objectives of this is students are going to be looking at me and perhaps thinking of going into teaching as professions.”
On January 28, 1986, the seven crew members of the space shuttle Challenger set out on a mission to broaden educational horizons and promote the advancement of scientific knowledge. To the nation’s shock and sorrow, their Space Shuttle exploded 73 seconds after liftoff. The Challenger Shuttle may have been destroyed, but the crew’s mission to educate and inspire lives on.
In the aftermath of the Challenger accident, June Scobee Rodgers, wife of Shuttle Commander Dick Scobee, gathered the crew’s families around her living room coffee table. The family members, who were all still grieving from loss, met to conceive a plan that would carry on the spirit of their loved ones. The family members were clear on one thing–no brick or mortar monument for these astronauts. Instead, they wanted to create something that would carry on the Challenger crew’s educational mission of inspiring and educating the future generation of explorers. What came out of that meeting was an idea to create the the world’s first interactive space science center where teachers and their students could experience a simulated space mission. The idea provided the cornerstone of the organization that was incorporated on April 24, 1986–the Challenger Center for Space Science Education.
The first Challenger Learning Center opened at the Houston Museum of Natural Science in 1988. There are now over 45 Challenger Learning Centers located in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Seoul, South Korea.
In an interview conducted shortly after the organization’s founding, Dr. Rodgers said, “We just couldn’t let the words ‘Challenger’ or ‘space’ mean something sad for children. So the idea of a living tribute to carry on the educational mission of the crew developed into Challenger Center. This tribute would utilize the excitement of space to inspire and motivate our nation’s schoolchildren to take interest in mathematics, science, and technology.”
Locally, the dream for a Challenger Learning Center in St. Louis began in the early 1990’s when the educational, cultural and business communities formed a committee for the purpose of opening a Center in St. Louis. The committee envisioned a partnership to support the Challenger Learning Center that included the Saint Louis Science Center, Cooperating School Districts, and an area school district. Three school districts applied to support the Center, and ultimately Ferguson-Florissant School District was chosen as the third partner and location for the Center. With support from Senator Kit Bond, a grant for $1,000,000 was obtained from NASA to make this dream come true. The Challenger Learning Center-St. Louis opened in the fall of 2003 on the campus of McCluer South-Berkeley High School in Ferguson, Missouri.
The Challenger Learning Center-St. Louis is supported by a partnership that includes the Ferguson-Florissant School District, the Saint Louis Science Center and Education Plus.
Tasmyn Scarl Front, Director
Tasmyn Scarl Front is Director of the Challenger Learning Center-St. Louis. She has over 15 years experience working in informal science education administration and has been with the Center since before the Center opened in November, 2003. Since then, Tasmyn has raised over $1.5 million dollars in support for the Center’s programs as well as for the national Challenger Center organization. She has led a team of staff and volunteers who have been recognized locally and nationally for their accomplishments in innovative programming and number of people served.
Prior to coming to St. Louis, she was the Senior Manager of Exhibit Projects at The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, California and served as the Exhibit Projects Manager at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, Illinois, where her skills and leadership of cross-departmental project teams has resulted in successful venues for over 50 national and international traveling exhibitions and several permanent exhibitions.
Tasmyn graduated from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana with a degree in Industrial Design. When she is not running the Center, Tasmyn is either running marathons or along with her husband, chasing after their two young sons.
Robert Powell, Education Director
Robert Powell is the Education Director for the Challenger Learning Center-St. Louis and is responsible for all education programs beyond the simulated space missions. Robert has 20 years of experience in informal science education. He has always considered himself a lifelong learner and loves sharing his passion for science and math with others. Robert graduated with a B.S. in mathematics at North Carolina Central University.
Erin Tyree, Program Coordinator
Erin (Nolan) Tyree is the Program Coordinator for the Challenger Learning Center-St. Louis. She develops curriculum materials and coordinates the program staff that lead programs at the center and in the community. Erin has a B.S. in physics from Michigan State University and studied Science Education at Washington University in St. Louis. She enjoys contemplating physics during activities such as bike riding, mentoring, eating, and supporting public radio.
Caitlyn Rettke, Assistant Lead Flight Director
Caitlyn Rettke is the Assistant Lead Flight Director for the Challenger Learning Center – St. Louis. She is responsible for leading many of our simulated space missions and for maintaining the simulator spaces. Along with leading weekend programming, she also coordinates and facilitates the Girl Scout and Boy Scout programs. Caitlyn has had a lifelong interest in space and science, and enjoys being able to share her enthusiasm with our many visitors. She holds a B.A. in Anthropology with an emphasis in Cultural Anthropology. Caitlyn is also a registered Boy Scout and a lifetime member of Girl Scouts. She has earned the Gold Award, which is the highest award in Girl Scouts.
Betsy King, Emerson STARS Coordinator
Betsy King is the Emerson STARS Educator for the Challenger Learning Center-St. Louis. Her primary responsibility is to manage the Emerson STARS (Success Through Aligning Resources in Science) program. She teaches students about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) using inquiry-based science and develops the supporting curriculum materials. Betsy has over 20 years of experience in formal and informal education. She holds a B.S. in Psychology, M.A. in Teaching, and completed a second M.A. in Education for Global Sustainability in May 2016. In addition to teaching and exciting others about STEM, she volunteers for the St. Louis Cardinal’s Green Team. As often as possible she tries to get out of the city to enjoy the beauty of nature.
Challenger Learning Center St. Louis is located in an 8,500 square-foot facility in Ferguson, MO, just one mile north of I-70 off of Florissant Road on Brotherton Lane.
At the core of the Challenger Learning Center are two mission simulation environments:
A Mission Control room where officers and directors monitor the progress of the space station crew and make key mission decisions.
A Space Station environment where mission specialists engage in communication with Mission Control, direct navigation, perform scientific experiments, and maintain the well-being of the crew.
All participants “travel” up to space via our unique space transporter.
There is also a gift shop as well as an Orientation Room where participants are briefed about the details of their galactic missions.
“I often find myself calling upon my experiences—that initial spark, if you will—that I got from the Challenger Learning Center. My experiences definitely helped me to solidify and stick with my ultimate career choice, and I’m forever thankful for that!”
It begins with a spark…
Seeing a rocket you designed and built blast into the sky… discovering a new comet… or successfully navigating your crew of astronauts to Mars in a simulated space mission…. You never know what will ignite a spark of interest in young minds. However, we do know that the excitement and enthusiasm we see everyday on the faces of these future explorers, scientists and engineers is helping students form positive feelings towards science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)-related fields.
“I just wanted to let you know how excited Kaleigh was about today’s field trip! She just loved it! Thank you for all you did to make it possible for the 6th grade class to attend. I know she learned a lot and it will be an experience she will never forget. So far I would say it was the best field trip ever for her! It is one thing to teach from the book, but just fantastic for her to have the hands on experience. Thank you! Thank you!”
It takes a community…
At the end of the pipeline is an endless array of possibilities for what these young people will discover and accomplish in the years ahead. However, the continued reductions in budgets and other resources at the source of the pipeline–the schools–makes the pathway to success more difficult. The cost to provide these programs and services to the diverse range of students and teachers is beyond what many can afford. With this country’s increasing need for highly qualified scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians who also understand the value of good communication and teamwork skills, we need to work together to help get them there.
We are grateful to those who have and continue to provide support to the Challenger Learning Center. To find out more about our giving program or to make a contribution, give us a call or click on the link below.
- Employee Community Fund of Boeing St. Louis
- Monsanto Fund
- Emerson Charitable Trust
- Clark-Fox Family Foundation
- Express Scripts Foundation
- Albrecht Family Foundation
- The Saigh Foundation
- Missouri Space Grant Consortium