HAMMOND | Students often ask staff members at the Challenger Learning Center of Northwest Indiana if they have an anti-gravity room.
“We're on Earth. We can't flip a switch to turn gravity off,” Becky Manis, the center's executive director, tells kids attending space programs at the Hammond site.
But a new summer camp the center is offering this year may come close.
A new underwater astronaut training camp will allow students to simulate a space walk, Manis said. The center, located on the Purdue University Calumet campus, is expanding its summer camp opportunities this year as it works to draw more people into its activities.
The underwater camp will mimic the training astronauts receive at the Johnson Space Center. The center is partnering with a local scuba diving instructor for the two-day camp, which will focus on the concepts of gravity and team challenges as students practice underwater.
“We hope that they will get an understanding of what it is like to work as an astronaut on a space walk, and ideally we want them to understand there is so much science involved in any work that relates to the exploration of our universe or solar system,” Manis said.
Along with the underwater camp, the center will offer a new generations camp, which is an adult-child partner camp featuring trips to the Hoosier Bat Co., Environmental Education Center and Taltree Arboretum, and a robotics camp.
The center has experienced a drop-off in school groups, which is about 90 percent of its audience, in recent years as fundraising for field trips has become more challenging for schools, Manis said.
Manis said the center is not in a threatening situation financially, but is working to rebuild that audience.
“We are making things work,” Manis said. “I wouldn't say we are anywhere near where we were six or seven years ago.”
The nonprofit Challenger Learning Center operates separately from Purdue Calumet and is in charge of its own fundraising, Manis said.
Fifth-grade teacher Kim Mullen said she continues to bring her students from St. Paul's Lutheran School in Munster to the center because it's a team-building activity. Last week her class attended a rocket lab and challenger mission, where students simulated a trip to the moon's surface.
“It teaches them to work together in a unit to create a lot of neat outcomes,” Mullen said.
Registration for the center's summer camps begin March 1. For more information or to register, contact the center at (219) 989-3250.