Challenger Learning Center: Celebrating Early U.S. Space Exploration

STORY BY JANIE ROSMAN

John Huibregtse discussing early space exploration/Dustin Hausner
John Huibregtse discussing early space exploration/Dustin Hausner

How many of you remember being affixed to your television sets as Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon’s surface 46 years ago?

On July 21, 1969, millions of people worldwide were glued to their television sets and heard Armstrong’s sometimes misquoted words, “One small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

During their testing phases, they rehearsed what they’d say as they landed, and not what would be said when they did land. Another event is this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Historical Society of Rockland County’s charter — the consolidation of the Tappan Zee Historical Society and the Rockland County Historical Society. The merger announcement in 1964 was finalized when the New York State Board of Regents issued the charter on September 2, 1965.

John Huibregtse discussing early space exploration/Dustin Hausner
John Huibregtse discussing early space exploration/Dustin Hausner

HRSC has been celebrating its milestone a Golden Anniversary Lecture Series and an exhibit that focuses on events that shaped the community. “Looking back at the 1960s to 2000s while putting together the 50th anniversary programming has been a lot of fun,” HSRC Executive Director Susan Curry Deeks.

“Kudos go to the anniversary committee co-chairs Clare Sheridan and Dorice Madronero, and to Dorice especially for arranging the Challenger Center lecture,” which has its own history.

Little did anyone know that Suffern High School student Kristina Rodriquez’ 1994 assignment — a proposal for land where the Little Red Schoolhouse once stood — would become a symbol of space exploration and history. As the building was deeded for educational purposes, then-student Kristina Rodriquez had an idea to use the land for a Challenger Learning Center with the rest of the land used for commercial enterprises.

Challenger Learning Center/Dustin Hausner
Challenger Learning Center/Dustin Hausner

Rodriquez’s paper explaining what a Challenger Learning Center was earned her an A and much publicity. About a week or so later, Rodriquez surprised her teacher, Phil Tisi, when she asked him the Center would be built. “It captured the imagination of people in the area, and a committee was formed, and they visited other Challenger Learning Centers,” he said.

It took several years to raise money from various sources, and in September 1999, the Town of Ramapo’s Challenger Learning Center opened, then one of 30 in North America and the second in the state.

It’s been 46 years since Apollo 11, and many space program anniversaries passed during the years. The first Challenger Learning Center opened in 1988, within two years of the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster. “It was formed for space science education by families of those killed as a living memorial,” he said.

June Scobee Rodgers, widow of Challenger commander Dick Scobee, helped created the first Challenger Center in Houston, Texas. Months after the tragic 1986 Challenger accident, Rodgers and family members of astronauts aboard that mission vowed to keep alive their family members’ memories and passion with the first Challenger Learning Center in 1988.

ne of several murals depicting early space travel efforts/Dustin Hausner
ne of several murals depicting early space travel efforts/Dustin Hausner

Since then nearly 50 Challenger Learning Centers opened nationally and internationally (Canada, South Korea and the United Kingdom), all with mission control and space craft simulator rooms. Depending upon location, some are standalone, some like the Ramapo Center are run by a municipality, some are owned museums, some are in universities, and some are in public schools.

Within its first 10 years (grand opening was November 1999) the Center welcomed 100,000 visitors. It was formally purchase by the Town of Ramapo in April 2010.

Last week John Huibregtse, Program Coordinator at the Town of Ramapo’s Center, discussed the history of space exploration, and its missions and equipment during the sold out presentation, “A Look Back at the Early U.S. Space Program.”

Mural of moon landing/Janie Rosman
Mural of moon landing/Janie Rosman

Starting with the first “manned” flight in 1793 in France — when chemistry and physics teacher Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier stayed in the basket of a hot-air balloon almost four minutes – Huibregtse recalled the Wright brothers’ first heavier-than-air flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina; Dr. Robert Goddard, who built and tested the world’s first liquid-fuel rocket in 1926; the Sputnik launch and John Glenn (both first American to orbit the Earth and later the oldest person in space).

More recent space exploration included Apollo and Challenger flights and early American space programs.

For information about the Challenger Learning Center visit http://www.lhvcc.com/ or call 845-357-3416.