After the Space Shuttle Challenger accident in 1986, the families of the Challenger astronauts wanted to continue the educational mission of the crew. During a meeting of top educators from around the country, the idea of a space simulation was born.
The Nation’s first Expedition Center opened August 25, 1988 at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. It was the first of an international network of over 45 Challenger Learning Centers. HMNS opened a second Expedition Center at the George Observatory in Brazos Bend State Park in 1992. The network serves to keep the spirit of the crew alive, not as a memorial carved out of stone, but as a memorial etched in the lives of the students from around the world who discover the thrill of learning every day.
The idea for the first mission, Rendezvous with Haley’s Comet, is based on the training the Challenger Shuttle astronauts received at the Houston Museum of Natural Science just one month before the Challenger accident. The Museum staff had been training the astronauts to find Haley’s Comet in the Burke Baker Planetarium at HMNS and felt that a voyage to study the comet was an appropriate way to “continue the mission.” HMNS premiered the Haley’s Comet mission and has since helped to develop the missions Return the Moon, Voyage to Mars, and Operation: LEAPFROG, a hybrid mission.
In 2002, the Expedition Center at HMNS was completely remodeled and renovated. Mission Control was given a new streamlined, high tech look while the flight simulator kept its classic style, unique among the network of 45 Challenger Learning Centers. The most up-to-date technology was incorporated throughout, including flat screen plasma monitors, video projection, and the latest in computer technology.
Today, the Expedition Center offers missions to groups of all kinds including school field trips, scout groups, and birthday parties. This unique experience uses space exploration to fuel the imagination and get participants excited about doing science in the classroom and as a career. The Expedition Center is a tool for teachers to help them work on teamwork, problem-solving, critical thinking, and processing information with their students. The program creates a motivation for learning science after the field trip and fosters a sense of accomplishment in students.