Local dignitaries and city leaders turn out to see the new facility.
By Landon Penn
As this college’s brass ensemble performed the national anthem Friday in the Scobee Education Center’s memorial garden, Scobee Elementary School students placed seven wreaths outside the center’s entrance to honor Challenger crew members who died when the space shuttle exploded Jan. 28, 1986.
“We can draw strength from their courage,” U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith said in his opening remarks at the
grand opening of the center after two years of planning and development.
The center is named for Lt. Col. Francis “Dick” Scobee, the Challenger’s commander and a former student of this college. It is home to the Challenger Learning Center, the Scobee Planetarium and a main gallery, soon to be named after a donor.
Scobee’s widow, Dr. June Scobee Rodgers, attended the ceremony, along with son Richard Scobee and daughter Kathie Scobee Fulgam.
“Dick Scobee would truly be over the moon about the opportunities Challenger Center offers to students, and proud that it continues the mission
for his Challenger crew,” Rodgers said. “He was a modest man, always passing tribute on to others.”
The ill-fated mission included Dr. W. Michael Hawes, vice president and Orion program manager at Lockheed Martin, who served in Mission Control as payload officer in charge of deploying satellites.
Hawes said the mission was “made up of a fantastic crew,” which also included Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnik, Michael J. Smith and Ronald McNair. Unique to this mission was Christa McAuliffe, a schoolteacher scheduled to transmit lessons from space.
Facilities like the Scobee Education Center will serve to feed the interests of students in space, science and aeronautics, Hawes said.
“We need that future workforce. It’s not the tools, it’s the people using them, that put us in space,” Hawes said.
As a former teacher, Rodgers said she was glad to see so many resources dedicated to further educating students at this college where she and Scobee actually met.
“Because I was an educator, I think he’d be pleased that the Scobee Education Center honors both of us, both former San Antonio College students,” Rodgers said.
Former astronaut Eileen Collins said she was glad to see so many people taking an interest in space exploration.
“STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is about creativity. This country needs smart people to accept new challenges,” Collins said.
In 1995, Collins became the first female to pilot a spacecraft.
Dr. Robert Vela, president of this college, said, “We had a lot of national figures taking part in this grand opening, and we’re proud to have them participate.”
The ceremony ended with Vela, Scobee Rodgers and Charles Cheever Jr. joining hands to cut the ceremonial ribbon, allowing about 200 guests to explore the facilities.
In the main gallery, visitors enjoyed a Mark III photo suit, a replication of a Russian space suit. Guests can open the backpack of the suit and step inside for a photo.
The gallery also includes parts of the Shuttle Columbia’s exterior, such as the foam insulator that struck the wing, causing it to ignite as it re-entered the atmosphere Feb. 1, 2003.
The shuttle burned up over Texas, killing seven crew members. Southwest Research Institute donated those artifacts, along with an interstellar boundary explorer (IBEX), space experiments with particle accelerators (SEPAC) instrument and space electronics engineering units, said Rick Varner, director of the Scobee Education Center.
The long-awaited renovation of the planetarium, which gained theater seating, showed “Secret Lives of Stars,” “Ultimate Universe,” “Violent Universe” and “Attack of the Space Pirates.”
The Challenger Learning Center consists of Mission Control, where students on field trips can work in teams as “astronauts” in the space station. The students first enter a debriefing to understand their mission and then are transported through a flight simulator before they start the mission.
On Nov. 4, students from Ed White Middle School will be the first to go on a space mission in the Challenger Learning Center.
“I think it’s just wonderful,” said Martha Castro, administrative assistant to David Mrizek, vice president of college services. “It will benefit our children for years to come. It’s just an exciting time.”
Rodgers said her late husband would appreciate that legacy.
“Most of all, he would be pleased to know that the Scobee Education Center will help make a difference,” she said.
Andrew Hubbard, former president of the Student Government Association, said Rodgers “brought the human element to the building.”
“(She) reminded us of the importance of perseverance and pushing forward,” he said.
The planetarium will have three shows Nov. 7, 14 and 21: “Secret of the Cardboard Rocket” at 6 p.m. for ages 4 and older, “The Sky Tonight” at 7:30 p.m. and “Black Holes” at 9 p.m., both for ages 6 and older.
Admission for each show is $2 with an Alamo Colleges ID, $4 for seniors, $5 for adults 18 and older and $4 for children ages 4 to 17.
For more information, call the center at 210-486-0100.