Rocketing to success: Center celebrates a decade of service

For the last 10 years, the Challenger Learning Center in St Louis has used space exploration to inspire young people to pursue math and science careers.

Photo credit: Ron Bookout, Boeing

Photo credit: Ron Bookout, Boeing

The center is part of a national network of over 40 educational facilities established by the families of the seven astronauts who died in the Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy in 1986. The Challenger Learning Center opened in St. Louis in November of 2003. It is a partnership between the Ferguson-Florissant School District, the Saint Louis Science Center and EducationPlus.

Since it opened, more than 80,000 students have participated in the center’s programs, including its signature simulated space missions.

The space mission experience splits students into two groups, one operating a spacecraft while the other group staffs mission control. Working together, the students solve real world problems using math and science to successfully complete their mission.

“While much of the experience is science-related, we also focus on of teamwork and communication skills,” said Tasmyn Scarl Front, director of the St. Louis Challenger Learning Center. “Students are encouraged to do a lot of creative problem solving to accomplish their missions.”

Most of the program participants come from a 50-mile radius of St. Louis, however sometimes groups will travel from further distances to visit the center.

The Challenger Learning Center offers educational experiences for students starting at first grade. The center’s “Flight Directors” who lead the programs are able to differentiate the activities according to the participants’ ages and abilities. They also offer more intense programs for corporations looking for a unique team building experience.


Photo credit: Ron Bookout, Boeing

When students first enter the Spacecraft and Mission Control, they look around at the equipment and materials and are sometimes intimidated “Some of the young people—especially middle school students, come in with a preconceived notion that science and math are hard and that they don’t like it,” Front said. “But by the end of the day, they are cheering and clapping as they see themselves and their teammates successfully accomplish their mission We talk about how skills such as math and communication, as well as grit, teamwork and creative problem solving contributed to their success—and that they had fun doing it.”

Watching students be successful and actively engaged with science and STEM-related activities is what makes the mission of the Challenger Learning Center so rewarding. The staff hopes that they are providing inspiration that helps propel young people into math and science careers.

“It is a privilege to be part of an organization that has helped to continue the mission of the Challenger crew to inspire our future generation of innovators ,” Front said.

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