Challenger Learning Center History and Timeline


January 28, 1986

On January 28, 1986, the seven crew members of the space shuttle Challenger set out on a mission to broaden educational horizons and promote the advancement of scientific knowledge. The crew of the Challenger shuttle died tragically on the morning of January 28, 1986, when a booster engine failed, causing the shuttle to break apart just 73 seconds after launch. In the aftermath of the Challenger accident. On this flight was Christa McAuliffe, who was selected from among more than 11,000 applicants from the education profession for entrance into the astronaut ranks, to become the first teacher to fly in space. It is in part because of the excitement over McAuliffe’s presence on the Challenger that the accident had such a significant impact on the nation.

Eventually, the crew’s families came together, still grieving from loss, but firmly committed to the belief that they must carry on the spirit of their loved ones by continuing the Challenger crew’s educational mission.

In Silver Linings, Dr. Rodgers’ memoir of the Challenger accident and its aftermath, she wrote, “The world knew that seven Challenger astronauts died, but they were more than astronauts. They were our families and friends. The world knew how they died; we wanted the world to know how they lived and for what they were willing to risk their lives. So, you see, we couldn’t let them die in vain. Their mission became our mission.”

The family members resolved to create a living memorial to the Challenger crew—the world’s first interactive space science education center where teachers and their students could use state-of-the-art technology and space-life simulators to explore space themselves.

April 24, 1986

In tribute to the astronauts’ courage and vision, Challenger Center for Space Science Education was founded and incorporated on April 24, 1986.


In June 1987, Challenger Center organized an educational conference at the SunSpace Ranch near Tucson, Arizona, that successfully clarified the organization’s direction. Some 30 museum, education, and scientific experts from across the nation met for three days under the leadership of June Scobee Rodgers and Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, a former astronaut. The meeting’s mission was to refine the specifics of the Challenger Center program—including potential locations and curricula.


The first Challenger Learning Center opened at the Houston Museum of Natural Science in 1988. There are now over 40 Challenger Learning Centers located in 31 states, Canada, South Korea, and the United Kingdom, with more opening every year.

Looking to the Future

Today, more than 500,000 students, none of whom were even born when the Challenger accident occurred, participate in Challenger Center programs annually. More than 6,000 educators learn the value of simulation for classroom use, adding to the 30,000 classrooms where Challenger Center school-based programs have been made available.

And the mission continues…