Reach for the stars – that’s what teachers everywhere tell their students. But for 20 years, kids in Richland School District 1 have been able to get a little closer with the help of a space flight simulator.
Thursday marked the 20th anniversary of the Challenger Learning Center on Barhamville Road in Columbia, next to W.A. Perry Middle School. In celebration of the event, NASA Administrator and Columbia native Charles Bolden addressed an eager crowd by pre-filmed video address, and attendees heard from three W.J. Keenan High School freshmen who designed an experiment that’s set to be performed by astronauts on the International Space Station this spring.
“In this time, when scientific and technical literacy are more important than ever, and when our nation has embarked on a journey to Mars, the work of the Challenger Center is absolutely critical,” Bolden said. “Giving students firsthand access to scientists and engineers, the ability to perform experiments and see things flown in space, and the chance to follow their own paths of curiosity is going to help us create the next generation of leaders and explorers.”
Bolden graduated from C.A. Johnson High in 1964 and was selected for training as an astronaut by NASA in 1980. He became qualified as a shuttle pilot in 1981 and, as an astronaut, went on to fly four space shuttle missions, one of which was the Discovery mission that launched the historic Hubble telescope. He also flew more than 100 combat missions during the Vietnam War between 1972-73.
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Among the future leaders he mentioned are Keenan ninth-graders Tevin Glover, Parker Matthews and Cedric McQueen, who designed an experiment that could produce important data on plant life in space.
“I want others to know how hard we worked on this experiment and how we could eventually help the human race,” McQueen said.
Theirs is one of 21 experiments created by students nationwide that will be tested in space this spring as part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program.
Carolyn Donelan, lead flight instructor at the Challenger Center, said the center started 20 years ago as a way to get students interested in science, math, engineering and technology. Now, she said, there’s a bigger mission.
“I think what’s exciting about 20 years later, it’s no longer just about getting kids excited, but for them to understand the career opportunities in South Carolina in the aerospace industry,” she said.