Challenger families push space center for children

The families of the Challenger astronauts say it is time to address the educational goals of last January's shuttle mission. ``Children all across the country are still waiting for their lesson,'' says June Scobee, widow of shuttle commander Francis (Dick) Scobee. With this in mind, family members have drawn together to create the Challenger Foundation, a non-profit organization that is gathering funds for a national space education center.

The center, likely to be located here, will provide educational programs for children, as well as offer teacher training and other outreach programs aimed at encouraging the study of space science in American schools. Such a center, says Mrs. Scobee, who heads the project, is a fitting tribute to the the seven men and women killed when the Challenger exploded Jan. 28.

``The flight was about learning and science education,'' says Scobee, who, together with representatives of the other families, is in Washington this week to promote the new foundation. Most of the Challenger's nine missions before January carried scientific instruments and investigations, as well as highly publicized student-designed experiments, including an artificial snow experiment put together by Japanese high school students.

Teacher/astronaut Christa McAuliffe planned to conduct two classroom lessons in space that were to be carried via satellite directly to schools across the United States. Other members of the crew were to assist in these and in a series of Teacher in Space experiments. ``In that sense, they (the entire crew) were all teachers,'' says Marcia Jarvis, widow of payload specialist Gregory Jarvis.

The initiative to create a living memorial to the astronauts comes at a time when many Challenger memorial efforts are underway. In the emotional aftermath of the accident, many different groups, organizations, and individuals established special funds for everything from a replacement orbiter to scholarships for the children of the Challenger astronauts. There are also moves to build more traditional granite and brass memorials in Washington and in other locations.

The Challenger Center for Space Science Education, as the center will be called, is separate from any of these initiatives and is being promoted as the only memorial in which all of the families are participating.

``This is the only initiative endorsed by all the families, and we want it to be the preeminent focus of this activity,'' says a spokesman for Sen. Jake Garn (R) of Utah, who has taken a leading role with Sen. John Glenn (D) of Ohio in coordinating the many memorial efforts.

In addition to gaining support from Congress, including a Senate resolution endorsing the concept of a space education center, the initiative has gained the support of Vice-President George Bush.

The families are negotiating with the Smithsonian Institution in the hope of having the center operate with that organization. The cost of establishing the center, says Scobee, will depend heavily on what sort of cooperative arrangement can be forged.

Meanwhile, the families have launched a national fund-raising campaign to raise $1 million in seed money. Funding is expected to come from private and government sources. Several corporations have provided support.

Analysts say that by locating in Washington, the center would be able to draw on the considerable space-related resources available in this city. In addition to NASA headquarters, the National Air and Space Museum is planning to build an exhibition hall at Dulles International Airport to house the non-operational Enterprise space shuttle and other large aircraft.

Scobee says the Challenger Foundation will provide scholarships to bring students and teachers from all parts of the US for programs at the center. The center will also produce television programming that would initially be distributed on public television.

In addition to teaching scientific principles, the center would aim to show children that ``science is a verb,'' says the soft-spoken Scobee.

The center would also teach children about the risks associated with space exploration, she adds.

``Youngsters should realize that without risk there's no new knowledge, no technological advantage; the risks inherent in exploration help the human spirit to soar.''

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