Who Knows Where a Mission Will Lead?

The Challenger Learning Center debuted e-Labs, a new distance learning program in 2012 to add to its award-winning e-Missions™ program, whose 11 missions already connect students around the world to our Wheeling, WV, location via videoconferencing.

Funded by a $156,000 grant over two years from the Benedum Foundation, e-Labs are a series of 12 virtual, interactive lessons in various science subjects. During these one-hour videoconferences students connect with trained facilitators dressed in lab coats and linked live from a science lab at the Challenger Learning Center. Students work together, using the scientific method to predict and explain outcomes in lab experiments and demonstrations. The e-Labs approach helps deepen students' understanding and encourage their natural curiosity in science. The e-Labs are being pilot tested this school year before being finalized.

e-Missions
Another change at Challenger involved a new website for the highly popular Operation Montserrat e-Mission. The new site is more interactive, and teachers have found it useful and inviting as they prepare their students for their Montserrat mission, in which the students work to save the Caribbean island's population from a volcanic eruption and an approaching hurricane.

Speaking of Caribbean islands, a 2012 e-Mission to a school in Panama marked the 16th country in which an e-Mission has been flown.

Onsite Missions
Students still pour into the Wheeling facility for onsite missions too. And who knows how that time in the miniature Johnson Space Center mission control or on the simulated International Space Station might inspire. We learned in 2012 about Jessica Tramaglini and how her trip to Challenger led to the real thing, so to speak.

Today the 25-year-old Tramaglini is a flight controller at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, where she monitors data related to the International Space Station's power and external thermal systems. She is one of NASA's youngest flight controllers, and she credits the mission she flew in sixth grade with her Mellon Middle School classmates at the Wheeling Challenger Learning Center as being the inspiration for her career choice. "I was not interested at all in the space program before that science class fieldtrip," said Tramaglini, a native of Mount Lebanon in Pittsburgh's South Hills. "But the Challenger Center piqued my interest."

With more than 30,000 students served in 2012, there's a good chance a middle school student today is considering a career in space science thanks to a Challenger Learning Center mission.

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