The San Antonio Museum of Science and Technology is hoping to turn a light bulb on for children who have yet to discover their passion for technology and the sciences.

As it gears up for a transition into a permanent facility and away from the former Kelly Air Force Base chapel that has served as its makeshift museum floor, it has hired a proven museum professional to accomplish that goal.

After watching the rise of the tech industry and shepherding aerospace museums in Seattle and Washington, D.C., Doug King was named president and CEO of SAMSAT in May. Now King is aiming to bring a focus on technology education to the still-young museum at Port San Antonio on San Antonio’s South Side.

“I was thinking, ‘Where do we want to be?'” King said. “We have incredible potential and want to get our kids ready for these jobs.”

As SAMSAT prepares to shift into the Port’s new innovation center, King said he most looks forward to expanding the museum’s programming, with the goal of bringing in at least 100,000 visitors per year. The past two years the museum has averaged about 20,000 visitors per year in its current location inside the Port’s former chapel.

Currently, the museum has only 4,000 square feet of exhibits and one classroom. In the new facility, SAMSAT would have five times the amount of exhibit space and six classrooms as well as access to a food court and gaming arena, King said.

King and his native San Antonian wife have lived in this city since 2018, with King previously leading the San Antonio Airpower Heritage Foundation and helping in the City’s SA Smart initiative to provide tech education to underprivileged families. 

Doug King had a seven-year tenure as president and CEO of the Museum of Flight in Seattle and served as the first president of the Challenger Center for Space Science Education in Washington D.C. He then went on to become president of the Saint Louis Science Center in St. Louis.

David Monroe, museum founder and chairman of SAMSAT’s board, said he has been working with King over the past year and is thrilled with his hiring.

“To have someone of his stature running this museum is phenomenal,” Monroe said. 

The new innovation center is on track to open in the summer of 2021, King said, with leadership at the Port now deep into the design phase.

Port San Antonio CEO Jim Perschbach said “someone with Doug’s knowledge is a tremendous asset” as the Port builds toward becoming a veritable tech education hub.

King said that will involve a mix of logistical efforts, ones that bring SAMSAT programming to schools and other parts of the community and others that bring students to SAMSAT.

Open-plan Mission Control module at the Challenger Learning Center. Photo by Bekah McNeel.
Open-plan Mission Control module at the Challenger Learning Center. Credit: Bekah McNeel / San Antonio Report

As a nonprofit entity, SAMSAT is currently fundraising for these growth efforts, King said. He added the museum works closely with dozens of community partners, including the City of San Antonio and the Port.

Exhibits at SAMSAT are designed to get kids interested and excited about science and technology, King said.

“They can come in and see this great collection of early computer tech from 50 years ago when the idea of a personal computer for everyone wasn’t comprehendible and it makes them think, ‘What will the world be like in the next 50 years?'” King said. “That’s in their lifetime, and they can be a part of that.”

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Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report.