Challenger Center ‘silver lining’ to tragedy

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Force behind Challenger Center stresses education.

Dr. June Scobee-Rodgers smiles and gestures to audience members as they applaud Tuesday during a ceremony to honor the crew of the Challenger space shuttle in Scobee Education Center. Photo by Carlos Ferrand

Dr. June Scobee-Rodgers smiles and gestures to audience members as they applaud Tuesday during a ceremony to honor the crew of the Challenger space shuttle in Scobee Education Center. Photo by Carlos Ferrand

By M.J. Callahan

Dr. June Scobee-Rodgers, founding chair of the Challenger Center for Space Science Education, joined about 100 people including representatives of this college and members of her family in a private ceremony Tuesday to observe the 28th anniversary of the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.

The ceremony was not open to the public because of limited space in the gallery, a insideScobee Education Center, which is still under construction at this college.
The center has been under construction since 2012, incorporating the original dome of the planetarium that was built in 1961. The center will reopen in April and resumes planetarium shows.

The space science education portion of the building, including a flight simulator complete with mission control, will open in early September.

The name Scobee Education Center was approved Jan. 21 by Alamo Colleges board of trustees. The name was changed from Scobee Planetarium and Challenger Center with the help of Scobee-Rodgers to create one name for the entire facility, Mrizek said.

President Robert Zeigler said the Scobee Education Center here is a memorial in a way for the crew of Challenger 7.

Their legacy lives on through the work of their families, he said.

Scobee-Rodgers, widow of Commander Francis “Dick” Scobee, recalled the disaster as a day of “numbing disbelief.”

On Jan. 28,1986, NASA launched the Challenger STS-7 on it 10th mission. Seventy-three seconds after lift-off, the shuttle exploded with six crew members on board; Commander Francis “Dick” Scobee, Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnik, Michael J. Smith and Ronald McNair.

Unique to this mission was Christa McAuliffe, a schoolteacher working on transmitting lessons from space.

Scobee-Rodgers recalled a time when the crew came to her home before one of their launches.Scobee-Rodgers gave them a bookmark with the phrase “to teach is to touch the future.”

“Christa McAuliffe coined the phrase ‘I teach; I touch the future,'” Scobee-Rodgers said.

Two months after the explosion, the family members of the crew gathered at the Scobee home to discuss ways to continue the crew’s mission.

“For a teacher still waiting for a lesson, for the students who are still waiting for the teacher’s lessons from space, this would be their silver lining from the dark cloud,” Scobee-Rodgers said.

The families started the Challenger Center for Space Science Education as their silver lining to not only honor their lost loved ones but also the work they dedicated their lives to.

The Challenger Center for Space Science Education focuses on hands-on learning with the setup of Challenger Learning Centers around the world.

The centers focus on strengthening the knowledge of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in children as young as pre-kindergarten. Another focus is for teachers bringing classes for innovative learning. The community is welcome to get involved in their programs, David Mrizek, vice president of college services, said in an interview.

Scobee-Rodgers has written several books. The first was “Silver Linings: Triumph of the Challenger” published in 1995, the 10th anniversary of the Challenger tragedy. It details how the Challenger Center came to be.

“Silver Linings: Life Before and After the Challenger 7” in 2007 on the 25th anniversary opens up the private life of Scobee-Rodgers.

The book covers growing up in San Antonio when she came up with the “ABC’s -attitude, belief in yourself and commitment” coined by Scobee-Rodgers to illustrate her perseverance after the tragedy.

Royalties for these two books go to the Challenger Center to help fund space science education.

Scobee-Rodgers with Kevin Anderson and Rebecca Moesta started the book series Star Challengers for young readers in 2014.

The series starring a group of children under the direction of Commander Zota at the Challenger Center learn skills to save the human race through science, courage and personal growth.

When aliens are approaching, Zota takes them into the future where no one cares about the space program, science technology, engineering or math. They have lost their will.

To reconnect with their knowledge, the children return to Earth to form the Star Challenger organization, using knowledge they learn skills on space exploration while also learning about themselves.

In an interview, Scobee-Rogers said the aliens in her fiction could be a metaphor for threats to space education, such as cuts in federal funding causing a shortage of professionals, such as engineers, surgeons and mathematicians.

The public’s enthusiasm for the sciences since the Apollo program in 1972 has not really been there and that is the future, she said.

Apollo was the last mission to the moon launched in 1972, and it took the first scientist to the moon geologist Harrison Schmitt.

The best investment in the future is education, Scobee-Rodgers said.

Scobee-Rodgers said before his last flight, she interviewed her husband for National Science and Children’s magazine.

She asked him, “If you could take a pet in space, would it be a cat or a dog?”

He said he could not choose, but he could imagine the cat in free fall so they would have to have a pole so the cat could claw on it and the dog would have the walls and ceiling to sniff, but both would have to wear diapers.”

It seems his granddaughter had a similar thought. She suggested to Scobee-Rodgers that she add a hamster to her book series.

The stories shared between the couple raised the question of the inspiration to feature aliens in her series.

Some astronauts have said on returning to the Earth that they have seen unexplainable phenomena during space flight.

Scobee-Rodgers said she recalled the commander using “Star Trek” terms to describe some of his experiences.

He told her, “I know there are no sounds in space, but I heard sounds like the Starship Enterprise.”

Scobee-Rodgers called the Scobee Education Center the shining star of the Challenger centers, not only because she and her first husband attended this college, but also because of the innovations in its design, including the latest technology.

Mrizek said the center’s innovative design makes it an architect’s dream and a contractor’s nightmare.

“It is the shining star for her,” he said. “It is like bringing June ‘Junebug’ Scobee-Rogers and Francis “Dick” Scobee together again.”


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