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‘Love-stronauts’ go lunar for Valentine's Day at Challenger Learning Center
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‘Love-stronauts’ go lunar for Valentine's Day at Challenger Learning Center

HAMMOND — Just as the Honeymooners Ralph Kramden threatened to send his wife Alice to the moon, Challenger Learning Center offered couples Saturday the chance to fly their sweeties into space.

The annual Valentine’s Day program allowed couples to work as an outer space team to repair an important but nonexistent NASA spaceship. Afterward, couples were treated to a musical laser light show and were entered in a raffle for a romantic wine tasting package.

“We’ve done simulated space missions with students and going into space is cool, so we thought, why not do it with adults?” said Lara Bates, executive director of the space center on the Purdue University Northwest campus.

Seven couples registered for each of the two afternoon missions. Their mission was to retrieve Ladee, a stranded space capsule, with Larry the astronaut. Apparently, Larry was ignoring Ladee, and the space capsule missed its human.

To accomplish this reuniting, couples worked in teams on specific assignments, including communications, life support, remote, medical, navigation and probe. Following a briefing from lead flight director Valerie Hunter, the “love-stronauts” had 30 minutes in the bridge to reunite the capsule and astronaut.

“This is a test of how well you and your partner work together,” said Bates. “It involves problem solving, critical thinking and math.”

It also involves some unique skills to address crises in space. These include one’s favorite dance move, a “death stare,” kiss cure, reenactment of how one couple first met, and spelling Valentine backward.

To finally depart the bridge, one couple had to perform their best high school marching band routine.

Ultimately, the teams successfully reunited Ladee and Larry.

“You guys did an awesome job,” Hunter said. “You got a lot of work done.”

Afterward, some participants said the experience was good for team building.

Cynthia Prieto, of Hammond, who with husband Jaime labored in the clean room, recalled coming to the center 25 years earlier as an elementary school youngster.

“I didn’t realize where this place was until I saw the notice online,” Prieto said. “It was really fun. I want to see what they have in kids’ programs.”

Brett and Emily Furuness, of Valparaiso, teamed in life support. “It was fantastic,” Brett said. “It was fun to get out.”

Emily added, “It was kinda like being a kid again, just the fantasy of being an astronaut.”

Hope and Jonathan Heichel, of LaPorte, handled navigation duties. While Hope enjoyed the fun exercise, her husband noted, “I like the teamwork aspect of it.”

Teams reported their findings to the communications duo of Bryan and Amy George, of Portage. As others said, the couple just enjoyed getting away from COVID-19 for a while.

“It was great seeing other people, a lot of people,” said Amy, who worked at Challenger.

“It was a lot of fun,” she added. “I can connect with students now, and how excited they get.”

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