On September 18th, the RV-103 Lecture Series appeared for the open house at the Dresser-Rand Challenger Learning Center in Olean NY. Earlier, retired astronaut Commander Pamela Melroy had appeared and spoke to the audience about what life was like as an astronaut. Later on it was Rocketman’s job to describe what life was like as a technician on the Space Shuttle Fleet preparing it for flight.
The Dresser-Rand Challenger Learning Center is part of a nationwide network of Challenger Centers. It was originally thought of and developed by the families of the Challenger Astronauts who lost their lives in 1986 during launch. The families did not want stone memorials commemorating their deaths, but living monuments commemorating their lives and their love for science and education. Thus the Challenger Centers were born. Their Mission Statement is, “The Challenger Center will be the symbol of our nation’s continuing support of space exploration and an affirmation of our faith in the future. It will re-energize our country’s commitment to educational excellence and increase scientific literacy among our people.”
Currently over a ½ million children have passed through the Challenger Centers doing hands on science and mission simulations in space. There are over 50 Challenger Centers in these United States of America and the United Kingdom. None of these children were even born when the Space Shuttle Challenger was lost, but the crew’s legacy has been permanently instilled in them.
The Dresser-Rand Challenger Learning Center is located next to the St. Bonaventure University in a state of the art facility. There are meeting rooms, presentation rooms, and of course the mission simulation rooms. The mission simulation rooms are extraordinary in how they were laid out and designed. It is just like walking into mission control at Houston. The other mission simulator room mimics a deep space spacecraft with the ability to send out probes to a comet’s tail, medical lab, biology lab, etc. Rocketman had to have Commander Merlin continue to wipe his mouth because he was drooling so much during the tour of the simulators.
Considering the rural area that Olean is in, the Dresser-Rand Challenger Learning Center is a precious jewel for the community. Most people don’t know it, but many astronauts are from rural areas such as western NY. In fact, Commanders Eileen Collins and Pam Melroy are both from western NY. Who knows, this particular Challenger Center may just inspire the next group of astronauts someday.