Learning center, Purdue Cal exploring partnership with Mission Ocean
By Rich Bird Post-Tribune correspondent April 17, 2012 7:28PM
Beverly Surprise, left, prepares a group of Moonbase Explorers for a mission at the Challenger Learning Center of Northwest Indiana Monday April 9, 2012. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media
NASA Shuttle Missions
Columbia: 28 missions from April 12, 1981, to Feb. 1, 2003. The Columbia was destroyed on re-entry, killing its seven crew members.
Challenger: 10 missions from April 4, 1986, to Jan. 28, 1986. The Challenger blew up 73 seconds into flight, killing its seven crew members.
Discovery: 39 missions from Aug. 30, 1984, to March 7, 2011.
Atlantis: 33 missions from Oct. 3, 1985, to July 20, 2011.
Endeavor: 25 missions from May 7, 1992, to June 1, 2011
The shuttles have carried more than 350 people and traveled more than half a billion miles.
At a glance
Crown Point native Jerry Ross flew in seven shuttle flights aboard Atlantis (5), Columbia (1) and Endeavor (1). Ross has more than 1,393 hours in space, including 58 hours and 18 minutes on nine spacewalks. He was the first human to be launched into space seven times. These seven flights comprise a world record that Ross now shares with one other NASA astronaut. Both his number of and time on spacewalks are all time second highest among NASA astronauts.
Updated: May 19, 2012 8:12AM
HAMMOND — After a dozen years of using the theme of space travel to teach science, technology, engineering and math skills to area students, the Challenger Learning Center at Purdue University Calumet may embark on a new frontier: the deep sea.
Robert Rivers, director of the university’s Center for Science and Technology Education, is waiting for confirmation of a three-year, $900,000 grant request from the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research to expand the Mission Ocean program, which he hopes to incorporate with Challenger’s existing space program.
Like the Challenger program, Mission Ocean is based on classroom training before students make the trip to Purdue Cal, where they pilot a virtual submarine via a 3D visualization screen. What it lacks is Challenger’s NASA-themed aesthetic, which puts students inside the mission, rather than observing from the outside.
“What we’re talking about is the 9-12 weeks in the classroom, then to the Challenger Center at very little cost, and to actually have the final mission at the Challenger Center,” Rivers said.
The grant will be used to expand the program — which operates now in Hammond, Washington, D.C., and Cincinnati — to the state of Mississippi. However, Rivers hopes to marry part of that money with other funding sources to make Mission Ocean as immersive as the Challenger’s shuttle simulators.
The goal is to instill problem-solving and 21st-century work force development skills — such as working together as a team — through project-based learning.
“We’re talking about using the Challenger Center as an environment where there’s more bells and whistles,” he said. “There’s a really cool physical environment in there. We want to add an ocean and redress the set, as it were.”
Rebecca Manis, executive director of the Challenger Learning Center, isn’t treating the idea like science fiction. In fact, she’s excited about the possibility.
“At a minimum, our goal is to improve everything we’ve been going over the last 12 years,” Manis said. “We want to improve this resource. Interest has waned a little bit, and I think this would be something to re-invent ourselves and make us even better than we are.
“If it’s not just space, but we can expand into the ocean too, we’re hitting a large, broad area of interest for the kids. There have been only one or two conversations where this is going on, but I think that our board has the foresight that would really make something beneficial for everyone on this area.”
Likewise, Speros Batistatos, president of the Challenger Center’s board of directors, said the board is interested in exploring ways to maximize opportunities at the center, including “opportunities we’re missing by having such a great institution (Purdue Cal) as our landlord.”
“The entire Challenger program and the national brand — I think, as a professional marketer — is in a state of identity crisis,” he said. “We no longer have a space shuttle program, and we now have a generation of kids that don’t know what the Challenger is. The president cancelling the shuttle program doesn’t help. Every year that goes by and we don’t have shuttles in space is a year that removes from kids’ understanding what was at the core of this.”
On Thursday, the board of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Bureau, of which Batistatos is also the president and CEO, will conduct its regular meeting at the Challenger Center.