Scobee Education Center nears completion

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One hundred new reclining seats have been installed during renovation of the planetarium in the Scobee Education Center. Photo by Riley Stephens

One hundred new reclining seats have been installed during renovation of the planetarium in the Scobee Education Center. Photo by Riley Stephens

Expected charge per group is $500.

By M.J. Callahan

mcallahan7@student.alamo.edu

The 21,519-square-foot Scobee Education Center, home of the Challenger Learning Center and Scobee Planetarium, is nearing the end of construction.

The Scobee Education Center will include a gift shop, an exhibit gallery, a stained-glass mural, a memorial garden, offices, two classrooms, an observatory and restrooms. The Challenger Learning Center will consist of mission control, a debriefing room, a flight simulator transporter and a space center.

A Ranger reporter and photographer toured the site March 6 with Jennifer Becerra, lead flight director.

Before spring break, the 100 seats in the planetarium were installed, and the building began to look almost ready to welcome students.

Over the break, a contractor came in to look at what Gina Gutierrez, planetarium secretary, calls the heart of the planetarium, the Digistar, a machine that stores and projects the shows the planetarium presents from its library.

The Digistar has been in storage for two years as the building was being remodeled. “It was successfully reawakened from a two-year coma,” Bob Kelly, academic coordinator of the Scobee Planetarium, said.

The Digistar contains four computers to run the entire planetarium, he said.

Gutierrez said the planetarium contains a library of 20 shows, but the staff is considering adding more.

Public shows are expected to recommence in April, but the price has not been determined. Previously, tickets were $5 for adults and $2 for Alamo Colleges ID holders and children.

The Challenger Learning Center section of the building will not open to the public until September, Becerra said.

Plans so far are for groups, not individuals, to visit the Challenger Learning Center. The focus is elementary and junior high students.

The prices for the Challenger will be by groups of 26 to 32 people at a cost of $500 for an estimated two-hour mission. When the Challenger Center was located at Brooks City-Base, the entry fee was $450.

The main gallery will hold a miniature space museum with exhibits including equipment used in the space engineering program at Southwest Research Center.

A round window next to the main entrance will hold a unique stained glass art piece honoring the memory of Cmd. Francis “Dick” Scobee, who passed away in the Challenger disaster in 1986, and his wife, Dr. June Scobee-Rodgers. Both were students at this college.

The Challenger Center for Space Science Education began that year. Founding chair Scobee-Rodgers worked with the families of the other six victims to create the center.

They all wanted to keep the mission of education in the STEM fields continuing the work their loved ones sacrificed their lives for.

On the first floor of the Challenger Center is a debriefing classroom for visitors called “micronauts” to learn what they will be doing before loading into the transporter. The transporter is a flight simulator that will hold TV monitors and seating to give a close simulation to what astronauts saw when they went up into space.

Access to the simulator is through an elevator. Groups will travel through the transport simulator to the shuttle.

On the second floor, groups will exit the elevator from the transporter and enter the space station. Half of a tour group will be at mission control and the other on the space station communicating via telecast to work together to solve different missions, Becerra said.

On the second floor, visitors access the bridge connecting the Challenger Center and the observatory deck. Two meeting rooms are available here by reservation.

Becerra said the resurfaced planetarium dome looked like the lunar surface before the final coat of paint.

The Northside Independ-ent School District has already been working to reserve spots to bring students to the Challenger Learning Center.

Robin Collett, assistant to the president, said a scholarship is planned to assist groups and organizations that might not be able to afford the admission.

Astronomy classes at this college have not used the planetarium since construction started.

Alfred Alaniz, professor of astronomy and physics, in 2012, said he could not wait to bring his classes to the planetarium. In fact, he requested five telescope piers to be mounted on the observation deck facing the North Star. They are installed.

Alaniz’s classes were so accustomed to having the planetarium as a resource, it held a special place in his syllabus because it made stargazing possible on bad weather days.

Alaniz repeated Tuesday he can’t wait to re-enter the planetarium and use the new equipment.

Visit www.alamo.edu/sac/challenger/.

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