Once a month, families are invited into the Challenger Center to tackle space missions and view planetarium and laser shows, said Becky Manis, director of the Challenger Learning Center on the Purdue University Calumet campus.
The Challenger center regularly hosts field trips for elementary school students, and students leave those programs excited and wanting to do more, Manis said.
“We wanted to let families use the facility,” she said. “Kids would be excited after school trips, but families wouldn’t be able to come out. Now they can come participate in this program and do something fun and educational.”
The next Second Saturday program will be May 11. The program continues every month through the end of the year except August, when camps are held.
The program includes a family space mission simulation, followed by a planetarium show and a laser show.
“We wanted to create a program to allow parents and children to spend quality educational time together, and the simulation does exactly that,” she said. “They work together to help us complete a rescue mission for the mars Curiosity rover, and each team has a different job. But everyone works together for the mission to be successful.”
The Second Saturday program began about a year ago, and missions are appropriate for children aged 7 and up, Manis said. 16 people can attend each Second Saturday mini-mission program, and the planetarium and laser shows following the mini-missions can hold 40 people.
Each month, the mini-mission remains the same, but the planetarium show and the following laser show changes, Manis said. The May planetarium show features extreme planets, and the June show focuses on “One World, One Sky,” a Sesame Street-based program.
“All of the shows are very interesting, and the graphics are very beautiful,” she said.
Manis said the goal is for families to get to spend several hours working together, but also to take away an increased interest and awareness of outer space.
“We want them to walk out and think this is the best thing ever,” she said. “We want to provide an environment that inspires kids to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.”
Participating in a mission or seeing a laser show is a good way to get them hooked, she said. Even if they might not want to pursue a career in space, they might be inspired by the way the technology works or some other aspect of the program.
“We have had students come back and say they’re engineering students at Purdue because of a fifth grade field trip,” she said. “We want to inspire them to begin thinking about their future. With the Second Saturday program, their parents or another adult who loves them is the perfect partner for that.”