When I was growing up, a lot of kids wanted to be astronauts. They were celebrities floating between the stars and the moon. They were household names.
Now, in the twilight of manned space expedition, the task falls to educators to spark the imagination of tomorrow’s space explorers. Explorers who will be using an array of technological equipment as they pilot unmanned satellites and rovers.
While the romanticized era of astronauts walking on the moon might be at a close, space science is alive and well. Especially here in San Antonio, when the San Antonio College Scobee Education Center will reopen its doors on Oct. 31.
Housed in the Scobee Education Center is the Challenger Learning Center, a national hands-on science program that hosts elementary, middle, and high school students. Its mission: seeing to it that the sciences continue to capture the imagination and inspire students to pursue STEM-related fields.
“There are so many important things that come out of the space program, even though we are not sending humans into space,” said Lisa Vernal, director of communications for the Challenger Center for Space Science.
The grand opening begins at 9 a.m., with events stretching until 5 p.m. and throughout Nov. 1.
Wondering if you should go? Here are nine people who will enjoy the Scobee Education Center.
1) People who grew up going to the Scobee Planetarium
This is me. The Scobee Planetarium opened in 1961. It entertained and educated 50 years of San Antonians before it closed for renovation in April of 2012. Those who have happy nostalgia for the domed screen and black light will not be disappointed. But some important upgrades give the facility new appeal.
The improved planetarium takes advantage of Digistar 4 technology on an expanded 38-foot dome. The expanded room seats 100 viewers in reclined chairs. It has 20 different programs aimed at pre-K through adult audiences.
The national Challenger Learning Center program was born out of the space shuttle Challenger disaster, which broke apart less than two minutes after takeoff. It’s commander Francis R. Scobee, for whom the planetarium and education center are named, attended SAC while he was stationed in San Antonio during his time in the Air Force. The Challenger disaster was a major moment in the collective memory of the country, and it is appropriately memorialized in the education center.
The Challenger Learning Center seeks to engage students, capture their imaginations, and draw them into STEM fields. As they work through the simulated space mission with one team in “mission control” and the other up in the model space station, they work together as a team, using math and science to solve problems.
Far from a hoaky game, the experience is customized to the students, so that each of their actions and decisions actually progresses the scenario in a certain way. The cool factor is high, and students get to see the life-or-death relevance of math and science skills.
Before their classes come for a field trip, teachers have the opportunity to visit the center for professional development and training. The visit to the Challenger Learning Center is not meant to be an isolated experience, but rather the hands-on lab for the math and science they have been learning. The day of hands-on learning in both high and low tech scenarios in the simulation will invigorate their students, and provide ample reference for future lessons.
5) San Antonio-superlative trivia buffs
There are 44 Challenger Learning Centers across 26 states and four countries. San Antonio’s is the first newly designed center since the program began in 1986. This means that the design team had the opportunity to create the facility using the most current technology and ideal floorplan, including an open-plan mission control room and interactive technology for an increased focus on collaboration.
The building definitely stands out among the brick buildings of the SAC San Pedro campus. Its domes, cones, and solar panels recall both nostalgia for the space race era (think “Tomorrowland” from Disneyland) and contemporary long-term thinking.
The building has significant mass, with 3,050 cubic yards of concrete weighing up to 6,100 tons. The floor of the observatory alone is a 45-ton disc, 24 feet in diameter and one foot thick that was poured on the ground and hoisted into place on the Star Deck.
7) Dating couples
Planetariums make fantastic date nights, folks. You will come across to your date as smart, yet playful. Quirky, yet urbane. Nerdy, but in a hip way. Plus, it’s dark and sparkly. And girls get all snuggly when they get to see the moon. Regularly scheduled Friday evening Planetarium programs will begin on Friday, Nov. 7, with programs at 6 p.m., 7:30 p.m., and 9 p.m.
8) People who miss seeing stars
City skies are not ideal for star gazing. The Star Deck at the Scobee Learning Center offers an urbanite’s best chance at exploring the celestial vault. In addition to scheduled viewings through the ten-inch D&G Refractor telescope under the observatory’s retractable roof, the Star Deck is equipped with pillars where astronomers (including amateur ones) can dock their telescopes with full electrical and data hook-ups.
9) Space enthusiasts.
*Featured/top image: Scobee Education Center – almost finished. Photo by Bekah McNeel.