“To reach out for new goals and ever-greater achievements, that is the way we shall commemorate our seven Challenger heroes.”
The award-winning Challenger Learning Center-St. Louis is part of a worldwide network that was founded by the families of the astronauts tragically lost during the 1986 Challenger space shuttle mission. The Center engages people of all ages in space mission simulations, STEM education programs, and team building experiences.
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 through immersive space mission simulations and other transformational STEM experiences
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
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.
Included in that crew was a teacher, Christa McAuliffe, who would be the first civilian and teacher to go into space. 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.
To the nation’s shock and sorrow, their Space Shuttle exploded 73 seconds after liftoff.
In the aftermath of the Challenger accident, 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. What came out of that meeting was an idea to create 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 30 Challenger Learning Centers located in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Seoul, South Korea.
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, Education Plus, 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 (now the STEAM Academy at 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.
Robert Powell, Executive Director/Education Director
Robert Powell is the Executive 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 from North Carolina Central University.
Erin Tyree, Program Manager
Erin (Nolan) Tyree is the Program Manager 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, Lead Flight Director
Caitlyn Rettke is the 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.
Kristen O’Neil, Office Manager
Kristen has been working at the Challenger Learning Center-St. Louis since 2015. She received a B.S. in Civil Engineering from the University of Kansas in 1997, and worked as an engineer in the cement and concrete industry before switching gears to stay home and raise her two boys. Her goal upon re-entering the workforce was to find a way to share her enthusiasm for all things math and science with young people. Becoming a member of the Challenger Learning Center crew has given her the perfect opportunity to work with a team who not only shares that enthusiasm, but also truly enjoys showing kids that STEM can be fun! When not working, she enjoys spending time at home with her family (her husband, 2 sons, a pup and 2 kitties), being outdoors whenever possible, and dreaming of one day living in the mountains.
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. Directions to the Challenger Learning Center are here.
The Center features an immersive space mission simulation environment, including a Mission Control Room and a Spacecraft, where participants cooperate to learn and succeed together. Guests should make reservations to participate in all of the Challenger Learning Center’s programs.
“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.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I register my class for a program?
Please fill out this form to provide information that will help us with scheduling: Program Interest Form.
I’m bringing program participants but not participating myself. What can I do while waiting?
To maintain an immersive space environment, only ticketed participants can enter the spacecraft and Mission Control. Parents/guardians are welcome to wait in the lobby, although we request that those doing so keep their voices down so as not to disrupt programs or office work. Children ages 11 and up can be dropped off, provided you leave us with an emergency contact number. For parents who do not want to wait at the Center, there are a variety of restaurants and parks, as well as the Ferguson Municipal Public Library just up the street.
Please note: For security reasons, you CANNOT get into the Challenger Learning Center after programs have started. Those choosing to leave the building must wait to re-enter until after the program is complete and staff have returned to the lobby.
What programs do you have for our age group?
On-site programs are available for ages six to adult; see age recommendations and program availability here.
Traveling programs, such as our planetarium, are available for ages 4 and up.
Can you accommodate a multi-age group?
We typically recommend groups of mixed elementary and middle-school students do our Jr. Astronauts Mars Pioneers program, with older students assisting younger ones. Fifth grade students can participate in our Rendezvous with a Comet mission along with middle schoolers. Contact us for more details on options.
Please note: We do not have facilities to accommodate parents with younger children waiting for older siblings in a mission. We would encourage these families to arrange for another adult to be responsible for their older child participating in the program and take the younger sibling to an area attraction, such as the Ferguson Municipal Public Library, about 5 minutes north of Challenger.
What do we need to bring to our program?
If you are a teacher bringing a school group, you will need to bring your filled-out crew manifests. Please see Preparing for Your Mission for more details.
Employee Community Fund of Boeing St. Louis
Emerson Charitable Trust
Clark-Fox Family Foundation
Express Scripts Foundation
Albrecht Family Foundation
The Saigh Foundation
Missouri Space Grant Consortium