BRIEF HISTORY
OF CHALLENGER LEARNING CENTER

Following the tragedy of the January 28, 1986 Challenger 51-L “Teacher in Space” launch, the families of the Challenger crew vowed to continue the crew’s mission of broadening scientific knowledge through education. 

Led by June Scobee Rodgers, wife of Shuttle Commander Dick Scobee, on April 24, 1986 the families created a living memorial to Commander Richard “Dick” Scobee, Pilot Michael J. Smith, Mission Specialist Ron McNair, Mission Specialist Ellison Onizuka, Mission Specialist Judy Resnik, Payload Specialist Gregory Jarvis and Teacher in Space Participant Christa McAuliffe. The organization created a clear mission: “The Challenger Center will be the symbol of our nation’s continuing support of space exploration and an affirmation of our faith in the future. It will re-energize our country’s commitment to educational excellence and increase scientific literacy among our people.”

The following year, citing national concern over student achievement and teaching methods at the K-12 level, especially in mathematics and the sciences, Challenger Center outlined its long-term goals:

  • To increase student interest in and enthusiasm for the sciences, mathematics, and technology
  • To improve students’ knowledge and problem-solving skills in these fields
  • To teach students to work in teams and think critically

The first Challenger Learning Center opened at the Houston Museum of Natural Science in 1988. Tallahassee residents Dr. Norman Thagard, FAMU-FSU College of Engineering associate dean, retired astronaut and close friend of the Scobee family; Dr. C.J. Chen, FAMU-FSU College of Engineering dean; and Captain Winston Scott, retired astronaut and former Florida State University vice-president for student affairs also shared the concern over the lack of American students with international competitive skills in math and science.  To help arm future generations with these critical skills, they joined forces to create a Challenger Center in Florida’s Capital city. 

Through funding from several public and private sources, their dream became reality in March 2003 when the Challenger Learning Center of Tallahassee opened with the mission to foster long-term interest in science, technology, engineering and math; create positive learning experiences; and motivate students to pursue careers in these fields.  To accomplish this mission, the Challenger Learning Center features a state-of-the-art Space Mission Simulator and utilizes the immersiveness of an IMAX® theatre and a domed high-definition planetarium to create a holistic educational and entertaining experience.

There are now more than 40 Challenger Centers located throughout the United States, South Korea, Canada, and the United Kingdom, with more opening every year.  Today, more than 500,000 students nationally and 40,000 locally, none of whom were even born when the Challenger accident occurred, participate in Challenger Center programs annually. More than 6,000 educators learn the value of simulation for classroom use, adding to the 30,000 classrooms where Challenger Center school-based programs have been made available.