STEM at Challenger

STEM Education is an approach to motivate students for the workforce and post-secondary education in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. Students discover a deeper understanding of each subject by applying the knowledge and skills typically learned in one subject to the others. STEM Education helps students gain a solid foundation of critical thinking skills that can be applied in real-life situations.  

The Challenger Space Center simulated space programs were developed using space exploration as a theme to create learning experiences that raise students’ expectations of success, cultivate a long-term interest in STEM topics and motivate them to pursue careers in these fields.

The simulated mission experience is an applied learning activity.  Current understandings of applied learning place equal importance on both theory and application.  The link between the two is provided by the context of the activity. The theoretical understandings and knowledge required to complete a task will be drawn out from the context, which also provides the opportunity to use and apply what has been learned by the students (Harrison, L. 2006).

In the context of the mission, a student’s ability to translate their science, math and reading comprehension is necessary for achievement on their job.  Additionally, teachers are able to view how students translate the lessons that have been addressed in school to an application of the topic.  The opportunity to access students learning in action can provide a means for the teacher to address weakness or strengths he/she may see in her student’s understanding of a science or math concept.  This type of formative assessment is a unique feature of the Challenger simulated missions. 

In preparation for a mission, teachers are required to attend training at Challenger Space Center.  Training includes a curriculum package as well as an overview of the jobs skills used during the mission scenario. The ability to use the missions as a formative assessment program is highlighted during the training. 


The Mercury 13

Members of the First Lady Astronaut Trainees (FLATs, also known as the "Mercury 13"), these seven women who once aspired to fly into space stand outside Launch Pad 39B near the Space Shuttle Discovery in this photograph from 1995. The so-called Mercury 13 was a group of women who trained to become astronauts for America's first human spaceflight program in the early 1960s. Although FLATs was never an official NASA program, the commitment of these women paved the way for others who followed. Visiting the space center as invited guests of STS-63 Pilot Eileen Collins, the first female shuttle pilot and later the first female shuttle commander, are (from left): Gene Nora Jessen, Wally Funk, Jerrie Cobb, Jerri Truhill, Sarah Rutley, Myrtle Cagle and Bernice Steadman.
Image credit: NASA