The Challenger Learning Center
The Challenger Experience...
Challenger Center crews spend several weeks in the classroom preparing for their mission. By the time they arrive at the McAuliffe Challenger Center, every crew member has been assigned to, and trained for, a specific role. They take their positions in either Mars Control or the Spacecraft, and following a short pre-mission briefing, assume control of an exciting two hour mission simulation.
At any point during the McAuliffe Challenger Center's current mission scenario, Voyage to Mars, an untrained observer is likely to be dazed by the torrent of messages and data being exchanged with surprising ease by these highly qualified space scientists. The COMMUNICATIONS and DATA teams systematically direct this flow of information, and as the data accumulates and teams begin to get a clearer picture of the mission's status, things start to get pretty interesting.
Using data from three orbiting satellites, the Space Weather team analyzes sunspots to determine the risk to earth and the astronaut crew posed by harmful solar flares and coronal mass ejections.
Nearby, the REMOTE team begins the process of comparing hematite concretion samples (Mars blueberries) returned from the Martian surface with similar deposits collected from the Utah desert.
Concentration is the key as the Mars Control PROBE team informs their astronaut crew that the probe is above allowable mass - the team must now devise a workaround that will allow the mission to continue.
Meanwhile, the orbiting LIFE SUPPORT crew is informed that an analysis of their pH test data suggests water supply contamination. Should they retest all reservoirs, shut down the water supply immediately, or is there time enough to brainstorm some other options?
Just then, in both Mars Control and onboard the Spacecraft, the general alarm sounds and the rotating alert beacon demands the crew's attention. After comparing the mass of a toxic chemical, taken during today's work, with one from yesterday's observations, the ISOLATION team is forced to conclude that the chemical is venting, or leaking, into the spacecraft's fragile, artificial atmosphere. Team members must now use several robotic arms in concert to quickly "safe" the sample in a special canister if the crew's safety is to be assured.
Finally, pressure is mounting for the Mars Control NAVIGATION team as the need for Martian landing site coordinates becomes critical.
What could possibly happen next? Nobody knows.
Materials for the Voyage to Mars mission are available here.
Teachers may find some useful background material on Mars, the Moon, Comets, and Gravity here to assist them in preparing their class for the Challenger Experience.
Find links to science and education resources on the internet here.
Learn more about McAuliffe Center Professional Development Programs on these pages.
Challenger Learning Centers Worldwide...
Challenger Center for Space Science Education is an international, not-for-profit education organization with headquarters in metropolitan Washington, D.C. Founded in 1986 by the families of the Challenger 51-L crew, the Challenger Center mission is to encourage long-term interest in math, science and technology and motivate students to pursue careers in these fields.
Using the concept of simulation as an instructional tool, each Challenger Center program creates an exciting, cooperative learning environment that exposes students to the challenges of teamwork, problem-solving, communication and decision-making. Today there are 50 Challenger sites around North America and the UK, and many new sites are planned.
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