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Sunday, November 28, 2021

The Story Behind the Christa McAuliffe Space Center's Planetarium Mural, Painted by Utah Artist Jake Songer. Imaginarium Theater

      The Christa McAuliffe Space Center in Pleasant Grove is once again displaying the space mural which use to hang in the old Central School hallway leading to the stage and Starship Voyager entrance.  For twenty years, Space Center visitors saw the mural either in the Briefing Room or the hallway. The mural was put into storage just before the old school was demolished a couple years ago.

     The mural's new home is the wall along the planetarium's exit hallway pictured below.  The mural's black frame took a beating during removal and storage but not to fear, work is underway to restore the frame.

The Christa McAuliffe Space Center

The Story Behind the Mural

The mural's story begins in 1986.  I took a group of Central School's Young Astronauts to the Johnson Space Center in Houston on a field trip.  While there I saw a beautiful space mural painted by Bob McCall on a wall just outside of the JSC's auditorium.  

Opening the Space Frontier - The Next Giant Step by Bob McCall

"In 1978, Christopher C. Kraft, JSC Director, commissioned McCall to paint the mural on the outside of the center’s auditorium, later named after Congressman Olin E. Teague of Texas who served on committees that oversaw NASA’s activities. In 1979, McCall spent several months at JSC painting the mural entitled Opening the Space Frontier – The Next Giant Step, illustrating NASA’s human space flight program, past, present, and future. He painted several JSC employees in the mural and used astronauts John W. Young and Judith A. Resnik as inspiration for two of the painting’s central figures. Astronaut Alan L. Bean, at the time a budding space artist, contributed by painting the astronaut pin in the mural. Dedication of the mural took place on June 19, 1979, and at the time the building housing the auditorium also housed the JSC Visitors Center, allowing the general public to view the mural." Taken from the JSC's website.

Upon our return from Texas, I challenged my Central School Young Astronauts to recreate the mural on butcher paper for display in our sixth grade hallway. They accepted the challenge.  

A few of the Young Astronaut Mural Artists. 1986

Using an opaque projector, the young artists traced the mural from photographs onto white butcher paper.  Crayons were the paint of choice. It took a long time to get the job done but they did it and did it look good.  

The Finished Crayon / Butcher Paper Mural outside my 6th Grade classroom

The mural went everywhere with us.  For example, we had a booth at the Alpine School District Education Fair held at University Mall.  The mural was the backdrop to the booth. 

The Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center opened in 1990 with one ship, the Voyager and our classroom / briefing room (which the Odyssey and Phoenix eventually occupied before the school was demolished).    

The wall at the back of the Briefing Room became the paper mural's new, more permanent home.  It still looked ok, but was showing its age. It needed replacing. Hiring an artist to redo the mural was too expensive.  Having the Young Astronauts color another was a possibility.  I've always said that the right person will appear when the Space Center really needs something badly and that's what happened with the mural.

Let me introduce Steve Songer.  Steve is a well know Utah artist.

Steve Songer

Steve and I served together on US West's Outstanding Teacher Selection Committee in the mid to late 1980's.  Every spring we travelled together to various school's across northern Utah interviewing candidate teachers for the award. I spoke to Steve about my mural problem hoping he might have a solution.  He did - he suggested his 17 year old son Jake might be interested in the project. I met Jake at Steve's northern Utah studio and pitched the idea. He accepted the project at a price I could afford and went to work.  It was the spring of 1992.  

It took Jake 4 - 5 months to finish the mural. He worked on it as his high school schedule would allow.  Upon its completion the paper mural was removed and the new mural hung in its place on the same wall at the back of the Briefing Room.          

The New Jake Songer Mural Newly Installed in the
Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center's Briefing Room.

The mural didn't last long on that back wall. That same year I raised enough money to build the Space Center's 2nd ship, the Odyssey. The Odyssey would occupy the back of the Briefing Room. The mural needed to move. I decided its new home would be the hallway leading to the Voyager's entrance. I had clear plastic panels placed over the mural fearing damage to the mural from the thousands of field trip students who attended the Center every year. 

What is Jake Songer Up To These Days? 

I reached out to Jake this last week to update him on the mural. He responded with an email: 

Wow, what a cool experience to get this email from you. I would love a picture.
I was 17 years old... I believe I finished the mural in spring 1993 but it could have been '92.  It took me about 4-5 months but only because I had little time to commit each week between school, athletics and work. Happy to hear that this artwork is still relevant and enjoyable.


Jake followed in his father's footsteps and became an artist.
This short biography is from his website.

Jake does magnificent work.  Here are some examples of his artwork

Isn't it cool that the Space Center owns a piece of art done by a well known Utah artist?    

Please take a moment and enjoy the mural on your next visit to the Christa McAuliffe Space Center Planetarium. And if you're in the market for fine art, visit Jake's website to learn how you can own a Jake Songer original.


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