HAMMOND | When the Challenger Learning Center of Northwest Indiana opened 15 years ago, it offered simulated space missions for students in fifth through eighth grades.
Today, it offers programs from prekindergarten through high school, as well as programs for families, community groups and businesses who want to explore space through science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.
“The 15th anniversary is a huge milestone for us and Northwest Indiana history,” said Rebecca Manis, the center’s executive director. “We are constantly evolving and developing programs to align with state standards and to engage both school children and the community.”
The center, which celebrated its anniversary on Saturday, was designed to carry on the mission of the Challenger crew and the first teacher in space, Christa McAuliffe.
Since opening in 1999, the nonprofit space center has “flown” more than 215,000 students on simulated programs that not only align with school curriculum, but also engage their interest in a variety of career paths.
Manis said the center uses space as a hook for interesting kids in the world of exploration, and the space simulations the students do require strong math and science skills, as well as critical thinking, teamwork and language and communication skills.
Students play a variety of roles in the simulations, ranging from doctors, scientists, engineers or robotic arm specialists.
There will be several events through the year celebrating the anniversary, Manis said.
On Feb. 14 there is a date night called “Fly Your Sweetie to the Moon,” where couples can use their problem solving and teamwork skills to complete a mission to the moon. There also will be dessert and a laser light show in the planetarium. The cost is $40 per couple and reservations can be made online at www.clcnwi.com or by calling (219) 989-2007.
Manis said the center will continue to evolve and find new ways to engage with students and the community.
“We’d like to be able to expand our operations to give the public even more access to the center,” she said. “We see 16,000 students a year, and we really appreciate teachers and schools who continue to bring them to us.”