The Mission of the Challenger Space Center is to inspire, excite and educate people of all ages about the mysteries and wonders of space, science and the universe in which we live.
Challenger Learning Center of Arizona is a nonprofit organization, 501.c.3., providing vital science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs to students primarily in grades K-8. In addition, the Center is a public museum open daily 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Challenger Space Center Arizona is one of only three Smithsonian Institution Affiliates in the greater Phoenix Valley, offering quality exhibits and programs for families and people of all ages amidst an exciting backdrop of space exploration.
History of the Center
In 1996, the late U.S. Congressman Bob Stump approached the Peoria Unified School District (PUSD) and asked the district to provide the leadership to build a world-class space science education complex to serve students from around the state. District officials and the PUSD Governing Board enthusiastically accepted this exciting and unique challenge: to host the first stand-alone Challenger Center in Arizona and the Southwest.
Just as it is often said that it takes a village to raise a child, it has taken an entire community to build this one-of-a-kind facility. With an incredible outpouring of community support, from the students who helped design the Center, to major corporations and local businesses, to the many members of the construction community who have come together to build the $7.3 million facility for $3.5 million, the Challenger Space Center is an outstanding example of a public/private partnership.
The story of the Challenger Space Center would not be complete without Peoria residents Kevin and Sydney Knight, who donated $1 million to the Center in January of 2000. In gratitude for their exceedingly generous donation, the Center’s building name is The Knight Space Science Education Center.
The Design Process
Architect Paul Winslow brought together a group of fifth and sixth graders and asked them one important question: “What kind of experience do you want to have at the Challenger Space Center?” This creative focus group spent a day talking about the look and feel of the building; how it would function and what the experience would entail.
It is because of these innovative youngsters that the Challenger Space Center features assets such as the interior glass elevator (“We want to feel like we’re going up in space!), as well as significant amounts of color, light and glass (“if we’re going into space, we want to feel like we’re someplace that’s really high tech!”) The designers of this unique facility, one of only a few stand-alone Challenger Centers in the world, have used subtle space metaphors to subliminally remind visitors that they are visiting a place like no other on planet Earth.
From sleek, silver, multi-story canisters representing booster rockets that grace the sides of the interior glass elevator, to the ten galaxy-lit columns representing countdown to liftoff, the Challenger Space Center represents the highest standards of architecture as art. The most stunning exhibit is a 4-story circular mural in the Steele Foundation Rotunda painted by the late space artist Robert McCall who was a staunch supporter of the Center, its mission, and outreach efforts.
Numbers Tell The Story
The Challenger Space Center celebrated its Grand Opening on July 23, 2000. Since that time more than 450,000 multi-generational visitors, consisting of entire families, from first-graders to senior citizens, have experienced space missions, Open Houses, space camps, lectures, classes, stargazing nights, and more.
We enjoy a robust volunteer staff, consisting of nearly 100 individuals, many of whom are retirees from nearby senior communities. These enthusiastic supporters have quite a varied background, with many volunteers coming from the military, high tech companies, education, NASA, etc. They sincerely believe in passing on their vast knowledge to the next generation; we are truly in their debt, because without them, the Center would not be able to serve the metropolitan Phoenix community.
Challenger Centers for Space Science Education
Challenger Learning Centers were inspired by the seven crew members who flew Challenger space shuttle mission 51-L. Their mission exemplified our noblest and most wondrous qualities—to explore, discover, and teach. Yet it tragically showed the perils at the frontier of knowledge. The Challenger Centers carry on their mission. We honor the courage and conviction of these heroic astronauts with every child we inspire.
Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, Commander
Michael J. Smith, Pilot
Ron McNair, Mission Specialist
Ellison Onizuka, Mission Specialist
Judy Resnik, Mission Specialist
Gregory Jarvis, Payload Specialist
Christa McAuliffe, Teacher in Space participant