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Sunday, January 5, 2020

The Field Trip that Inspired Me to Create the Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center. Imaginarium Theater. Imaginarium Memes.

Central School's Young Astronauts Chapter at the Kino Learning Center,  Tucson, Arizona 

     It was summer 1988.  Central School's top Young Astronauts went on a field trip to Tucson, Arizona to experience the Kino Learning Center's overnight camp program in their simulator "Explorer".  I learned about the Explorer from Sister Judy Bisignano, founder and director of the Kino Learning Center and creator of their simulator program, from a presentation she gave the previous summer at the first International Young Astronauts / Young Cosmonauts Conference in Japan.  Our Central Young Astronauts made up 1/4 of the American delegation to that conference.  
     I had been running space simulations set in the Star Trek universe in my classroom since 1983 so I was intrigued by her space shuttle set in her school's library.  I thought that if she could build a decent set at her school then why shouldn't I give it a go.  
     I selected our club's top cadets and set off for Arizona to learn the ins and outs of running a space shuttle overnight camp program.  If the cadets enjoyed it then my thinking was to approach our principal, Stan Harward, with the proposition to build a simulator of our own in the empty classroom where the Odyssey and Phoenix sit today.  

     We made it to Las Vegas and spent the night at Circus Circus. The boys enjoyed the indoor amusement park. The next day we stopped at Hoover Dam.

The First Overnight Camp Crew in Space Center History
Mike Monson. Chris Bone, Cory Winder, Rocky Smart, Jacob Mattson, Rangi Smart, and David Jensen

     I enjoyed to tour.  The boys preferred Circus Circus.  Arizona was the next stop...

... then on to Tucson and the Kino Learning Center where we met Sister Judy and were introduced to the Explorer.

Kino Learning Center and Sister Judy

The Explorer was built of wood and sheetrock and sat smack dab in the middle of the school's library.  Mission Control sat beneath the shuttle's nose cone.   

Excitement filled the air.  The boys were anxious to get their mission underway. They'd done numerous space simulations in my classroom with the poster board starship controls but this was taking it to another level.  

The experience started with a mission briefing where the mission's goals and objectives were outlined.  The boys were each issued a mission activity workbook which held their worksheets, lessons, and activities.  The boys had different responsibilities - hence different workbooks for each job. 

Stocking the shuttle was their next responsibility.  The boys had to plan their menu (supper, snack, and breakfast) based on the supplies at the school.  With plastic tub in hand, the boys gathered their supplies.  "Once in you don't come out until the shuttle lands," they were told by the flight director. 
     "What if I need to use the bathroom," one boy asked.
     "We have a porta potty at the back of the shuttle," was the response. There was some grumbling about having to use a porta potty but I reminded them that this was an adventure.
We gathered at the shuttles entrance hatch for the crew photo.  

It was time to board. With food and supplies safely tucked away, the crew boarded the shuttle. It was late afternoon. Once settled in, the boys posed for one more photo before the hatch was sealed and launch.  Rangi Smart was the mission's commander. The cockpit was in the nose cone over the mission control desk. The shuttle was equipped with cameras and microphones.   

The boys launched and got right to work on their activities. They did experiments, exercised, did some basic math, and other things as per their "job" in the ship.  They fixed their supper and did their own dishes (they had bottled water).  Later in the evening they watched a movie on the small TV in the shuttle's crew quarters before turning in for the night. 

The boys slept in fabricated tubes used to make cement conduits. They reported it wasn't the most comfortable sleeping arrangement but it did the job.  Of course they only got a few hours of sleep. They were up much of the night playing games etc.    

Mission Control woke them up early in the morning to complete their reentry maneuvers. Rangi turned the shuttle, they had breakfast, and entered the atmosphere on the right flight path.  The shuttle landed without incident.  The hatch was opened and the boys welcomed back to Earth with much fanfare.  Then it was pack up, clean up, and departure.  After a mission debriefing we thanked our hosts and headed north for Utah.  On the long drive home we discussed the mission in detail. One thing that struck me more than anything else was this; the boys said they liked the shuttle experience better than Circus Circus!  Right then I knew Central had to have a shuttle of its own. My mind was set.

I met with the principal a few days later, showed him the photos from the trip and asked for permission to build a ship in the empty classroom. Stan was onboard.  I had my marching orders. I needed to raise the money through grants and donations. The District gave permission as long as I didn't ask them for financial assistance. Two years later we opened the Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center and the magical ship Voyager..... and as they say, the rest is history.


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