Contact Victor Williamson with your questions about simulator based experiential education programs for your school.

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.


Imaginarium Theater
The Best Videos From Around the World Edited for a Gentler Audience

Sunday, November 21, 2021

The Starship Falcon's Logo Is Released. See the Competed Flight Stations for the New Ship at American Heritage School. Meet a Few More of The Space Place's Young Astronaut Squadrons. In the "Things I Didn't Know" and "So That's How They Do It" Category - How Today's Space Center Starts a Camp Compared to "Back in the Day"

Hello Space Center Fans,

The CMSC's Falcon simulator has a logo.  It was presented on the Space Center's Facebook page.  All six simulators are logoed up now.  The Falcon is the one non-Starfleet ship in the CMSC's fleet.  The ship's crews get up to mischief on occasion, but generally are out to make a buck or two.  

American Heritage School's Starship Flight Stations are Complete

Alex Debirk is the director of the soon to open space center at American Heritage School in American Fork.  He and his high school students have been busy in the school's Creativity Lab designing and constructing the starship's furniture.  This week Alex announced the completion of the front two flight stations.
They are very Star Trek in appearance and beautiful to behold.
I'm excited to give them a trail run once the starship opens in January.  

Meet a Few More of The Space Place's Young Astronaut Squadrons at Renaissance Academy

Every weekday afternoon one of The Space Place's Young Astronauts or Voyager Club squadrons meet from 3:20 - 5:20 P.M.  There are 19 squadrons participating in this school year's program.  Squadrons range in size from 8 to 10 students in grades 3 - 9.  Meetings include lessons in astronomy and current space news, team building activities with Major Vidina (Renaissance Academy's middle school science teacher), and flight time in the Starship Voyager.  The missions in the Voyager are episodic with a specific mission designed for each of the 7 grade levels.  We call these missions "Long Duration Missions" or LDM's for short.

Here are a few more squadrons in our Young Astronauts Program.      

The 3rd Grade Lion Squadron

The 3rd Grade Dragon Squadron

The 5th Grade Tiger Squadron

In the "I Learned Something New Department".  How the CMSC Gives Out Camp Volunteering Positions

Back in the days of my directorship of the Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center I met with the volunteers and supervisors before the start of every overnight, super Saturday, and day camp to assign camp working positions.  We met on the steps of the stage in the old Central School's gym.  At the end of the meeting I'd say "Loading Stations" and everyone would disperse to their assigned places.  The Loading Stations were:
1.  Friendly Door Greeter  (Welcomed the campers at the school's front door and directed them toward the Gym).
2.  Hallway Greeter (Directed the campers down the hallway to the open Gym door).
3. Gear (two were assigned to stand in the gym to show the campers where to put their sleeping bags, pillows, and overnight bags).  
4.  Signing In (three or four were assigned to sign the campers in and give them their rank lanyards).  
5.  Me (I usually sat at a table of my own and checked the campers names against the camp list before having them sit on the steps and wait for the camp to start). 

Yesterday I was the Cassini's flight director for a CMSC Explorer Day Camp. I got all set up in the Cassini Control Room and headed for the gym when I saw the volunteers gathered in the hallway listening intently for their ship assignments and start of camp pep talk.  It was a meeting I didn't know happened so it fell into that bottomless pit I call "Things I Didn't Know" and "So That's How It's Done These Days".  

Imaginarium Theater
The Best Videos From Around the World Edited for a Gentler Audience

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Thoughts on the Christa McAuliffe Space Center's 31th Birthday. November 8, 1990 - November 8, 2021. The New Christa McAuliffe Space Center's One Year Birthday. Imaginarium Theater.

Hello Troops,

I remember November 8, 1990 very well. I was nervous. I had doubts. I questioned whether I knew what I was doing and I knew there were others who thought the same.  It was a risky endeavour, something no teacher in the Alpine District had done before - add an addition to a school and start a entirely new district wide program. 

Honor's Night. Look at all those earning their one year volunteering pin

The vision of creating a 'Space Center' started with my 6th grade Young Astronaut Club and a 1986 Young Astronauts conference trip to Japan. During that convention I met the director of the Kino Learning Center in Tucson Arizona. Her school had a rather large space shuttle simulator in the school's library used for simulated space missions. If she could do it then so could I. The dream was born.  I envisioned our Young Astronauts poster board classroom starship simulator (the USS Pegasus) could have a permanent home of its own in the classroom where today's Odyssey and Phoenix sit.  The dream expanded from a small simulator to the Voyager addition to the school and the CMSC as it is today.

James Porter passed off as an Odyssey Flight Director by Dave Wall

So many people were drawn into the project. Special gratitude is given to Stan Harward, Central's principal at the time, and Dr. Luana Searle, Asst Superintendent over elementary schools. Money was raised and many hours of volunteer manpower were given. This new program had to succeed. Failure wasn't an option. I didn't sleep well those first years. My health suffered. My poor heart never completely recovered. The anxiety attacks, I'm happy to say, lasted three years and ended.

A great group of young Blue Shirt Rangers

I originally envisioned the Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center to be a science lab on board a futuristic spaceship but that idea never took hold for a multiple reasons.  I opened the Space Center by experimenting with a scientific mission to Mars. There are people who remember that first school mission. We flew at warp speed using HyperCard controls I programmed. Once there we used a Mars laser disc for special effects. We flew around the planet learning about its climate and features. I stood on the bridge next to the Tactical screen. My 6th grade staff (2 kids) sat in the control room listening and waiting for clues on when to play and pause the laser disc player and VCR. How primitive it was compared to what we do now.

Tanner Edwards with the Galileo

I felt something was missing after we ran a week or two of the Mars mission field trips . The students showed little excitement. They sat at the computers listening to me. There was very little work for them to do. My Hypercard controls lack depth and purpose. I was in command giving the captain orders on where to go and what to do. The presentation approach with a science only curriculum wasn't working.

A few of the teen staff

I thought back to my days in the classroom with the overhead projector, boom box, and paper controls. Then the idea came – do what you've proven successful - introduce some drama. Using two of the school's VCR's and my Star Trek movie collection, I edited a new ending to the Mars expedition. The mission ended with a Romulan warbird showing up orbiting Mars. It approached in a threatening way, fired, then warped away. It was a crazy idea but crazy ideas are the lifeblood of the Center. 

Another Honor's Night in the Magellan

The idea of adding the Romulan scene at the end of the mission worked. The kids got excited to see the Romulan ship. The little battle thrown into the end of the Mars mission was successful. It convinced me that my original idea of taking a class on an EdVenture into space would work with the general public like it did with my captive 6th grade class.

Dustin Robinson and Megan Warner in the Voyager Control Room

I sat down and wrote another mission called "Epsilon". It was a story of a planet in the Klingon Neutral Zone. Half the planet was under Federation control and the other was under Klingon control. The treaty, allowing joint control of the planet, was up for renegotiation. The planet would be awarded to the government which demonstrated it could best care for the planet's population.

The Overnight Camp Program. 1990-2012

The story had the Voyager entering the Neutral Zone bringing a new kind of wheat to the planet. This new wheat was genetically engineered to grow well in the planet's harsh climate. The Voyager had a few close calls on the way to the planet and a few others while in orbit. At the end of the mission our classes left the Voyager so excited. I knew I had found the formula; and the rest, as they say, is history.

Now here we are 31 years later. The one ship is now a fleet of 14 located at the CMSC, Renaissance Academy, Lakeview Academy, Canyon Grove Academy, and Telos U. Two new starships will soon open at American Heritage School in American Fork. The CMSEC inspired spin off companies like Dream Flight Adventures and IndiniD with simulators in several other states and outside the country.  Our stories are more complicated. Our simulators are more sophisticated. I'm getting older and gray but the magic is still there. 

Randy Jepperson and Mark Daymont with the Falcon.

Someone once asked me If I would ever truly retire. I tried once in 2013. I'd done my 30 years for God and District at Central Elementary and the Space Center; I needed a rest. My rest lasted a grand total of three months. Renaissance Academy in Lehi wanted a starship simulator of their own and came calling.  The offer of building a new Voyager along with getting to go back into a 6th grade classroom to end my educational career sealed the deal. Retirement could wait. There was magic to perform. 

The Crew of the Voyager

At 31 years it is easy to sit back and take a journey down memory lane of the many good times we've all had at the Space Center. During my time as director I'd often wait to go home until the staff and volunteers were gone and the ships were empty. I'd walk onto the Voyager's Bridge and sit in the Captain's chair under the dim lights and listen to the voices of 300,000 children swirling around the room locked in the very walls of the ship. I look over at the left wing and see the original staff training crews by hand before the days of training tapes and mp3 players. I see Jacob Bartlett over in the corner asleep when he should be doing his job as a bridge staff. I hear Russell Smith downstairs playing the blind doctor. I watch a much younger Mr. Schuler coming up the stairs in full Star Trek uniform. A young first officer voice shouts, "Admiral on the Bridge!" . I still see that silly mask popping up over the loft to frighten Security. I see our many young volunteers growing up in that simulator from elementary school to junior high to senior high and then jumping ship into life. I hear the screams, the laughing, and the quiet that came from failure like when Blossom, the beloved Paklid captain, died in a fiery crash into a planet so many years ago. They are good memories. 

James Porter entering the ranks of the Green Shirt Adult Staff

Eighteen years ago I wrote..
Perhaps some day video game technology will become so evolved that children will do one of our missions at home connected to some kind of virtual reality machine. The computer will play my part, telling the story and reacting to the kid's decisions. The class will sit with goggles covering their eyes showing them the bridge of some futuristic ship. Gloves will give them the feel of working the controls. Perhaps the Voyager will still be around when that day comes. It may be a museum this future generation will visit with their grandparents. As they tour the simulator the sounds of our voices and the blaring music with red alerts will mix with their grandparents' stories of when they flew the original Voyager, Odyssey, Magellan, Phoenix, and Galileo long ago to far away places.
Thank you everyone for 31 Years. Thank you volunteers for the hours of time you give these programs each month. Thank you to the staff of all the space centers for always going above and beyond the call of duty. We are all involved in creating lasting memories that will stay with our students forever.

With Warmest Regards,
Victor Williamson

The New Christa McAuliffe Space Center is One Year Old


     One year ago several dignitaries gathered with the Space Center staff to officially open the Christa McAuliffe Space Center's new home.  The event was held in the Space Center's planetarium.  Tours of the planetarium and six simulators were given to the invited guests before the dedication program.  I was on hand wearing three hats:  1) As a financial donor to the new Center and 2) As a member of the Space Center's staff and 3) As the founder of the Christa McAuliffe Space Center all those 31 years ago. 

      That morning I entered the new Center and made a beeline straight to the lower deck to see the new simulators docked at Starbase Williamson.  They were beautiful.  What a facility!  

     There are many to thank for continued support, but a special thank you must be given to Rob Smith and Vicki Carter from the District Office for spearheading the fund raising for the new Center.  And of course a very hardy "Well Done!" to James Porter, CMSC Director and Ryan Wells, Central School's Principal for the work they did to make this a truly one of a kind facility in the entire world.  Please enjoy these few photos of the event.

Alpine School District Superintendent Sam Jarvis at the dedication

Asst. Superintendent Rob Smith Spearheaded the Fundraising

And Now, the Simulators

The Magellan
The Magellan

The Falcon

The Falcon

The Falcon Hallway

The Cassini Bridge

The Hallway to the Phoenix

The Phoenix Bridge

The Phoenix Bridge

The Friendly Staff Welcoming Guests to the Simulators at Starbase Williamson

The Odyssey

The Odyssey

The Odyssey

The Galileo

The Starbase Lobby

The Cool Lava Floor Tiles

Entry Hallway from the school

The computer server racks

Imaginarium Theater
The Best Videos From Around the World Edited for a Gentler Audience