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Simulating Space At The Challenger Learning Center

In the harsh environment of outer space, teamwork among astronauts can mean the difference not only in having a successful mission, but even between life and death.

So it’s fitting that the Challenger Learning Center of Hardin County is helping students, scouts, and adults learn to work together under a backdrop of a simulated NASA space mission.

The Radcliff facility, open since February 2000, serves 49 counties in central Kentucky and southern Indiana, and is one of three centers statewide—others are in Paducah and Hazard. All are affiliated with an international network of centers created by the families of the crew members who died during the last flight of the Challenger space shuttle in 1986.

Though visitors can stop by and receive a brief tour and explanation of its programs, the Challenger Learning Center isn’t a museum or tourism destination, Teresia Gaines, Center director, explains. Instead, it offers a variety of scheduled group activities, from space missions for middle school-aged students working in mission control and space station teams like “Rendezvous with a Comet” and “Voyage to Mars,” to mapping and constellation activities for different scouting levels.

The Center also schedules camps for kids in kindergarten through fifth grade during fall, spring, and summer breaks, with themes like this year’s Stars of Ancient Civilizations, while its corporate STAR program is designed to hone team-building and problem-solving skills among co-workers with customized simulated space missions.

Classrooms visiting the Center prepare weeks in advance for their imitation space missions. With the assistance of adult “flight directors” at the Center, they are assigned to crew teams with tasks that are critical to the mission such as medical, life support, or communication, and put to use the math and science concepts they’ve learned in class. The hands-on activities held in the mock Mission Control and Space Station also foster teamwork, critical thinking, decision-making, problem-solving, and communication skills.

“It’s such a realistic environment for them and that’s what I think is fun about it, and the learning goes right with it,” Gaines says.

Newer happenings at the Center include a portable planetarium, StarLab, which can be used at the Center or be brought on-site to schools. StarLab sessions feature hands-on projects and other instruction inside the lab, with different themes including Greek mythology, ocean currents, and weather.

Gaines says it’s wonderful if students are inspired by their Challenger Learning Center experiences to pursue careers in the space science field, but there’s a broader purpose to help all kids become excited and inspired about learning, and to realize that math, technology, and science skills can be applied in a wide range of careers.


Challenger Learning Center of Hardin County is located at 2000 Challenger Way, Radcliff, KY 40160. For more information, call (270) 351-STAR (7827) or go on the Web to

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