STEM Center to Take Students on Space Missions Virtually

The city that put a man on the moon is now hoping to send students into space. Houston Community College has announced plans to open the latest "Challenger" learning center, a facility for K-12 students to gain STEM exposure by heading to space — virtually. Each center provides an immersive experience. Students occupy a mission control room and a space station where they perform labs, run experiments and analyze data during a "mission." The idea is to help students gain grounding in science, technology, engineering and math concepts while also testing out their teamwork, communication and problem-solving skills as emergencies arise.

The new site will be the 41st one built around the world. The community college system applied to the Challenger Center in Washington, D.C. to open the operation. Approval came in March as the first step to kick off a $2 million fundraising campaign that will support construction of the 10,000-square-foot center. The institution's hope is that the center will provide a STEM pathway to lead students into higher education.

"This will add to HCC's growing innovative educational offerings that already include participation in the city's new innovation corridor in Midtown and partnerships with NASA and the University of Houston to build a Mars surface habitat and other additional facilities for manned missions to Mars." said HCC Chancellor Cesar Maldonado in a prepared statement. "Today's students are the innovators, explorers and designers of tomorrow. We must nurture their excitement and inspire their imagination."

The Felix Fraga Academic Campus, where the center will be located, offers courses in engineering, maritime logistics, drafting, math, physics and astronomy. The school also has an observatory used by students and the community.

The Challenger Center is a non-profit founded by the families of those who died in the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger accident. The goal of the center is "to carry on the spirit of their loved ones by continuing the Challenger crew's educational mission," according to its website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.