They walled through the airlock and onto the space shuttle, took their seats and waited for Mission Control to give the OK.
The countdown begins. "Ten, nine, eight..."
"We have lift-off!"
North Clay Middle School eighth graders, 35 of them, were transformed into astronauts and transported to the year 2015 as they returned to the Moon.
No human being has set foot on the planet since 1972. Six Apollo missions landed on the planet. Three others were planned, but because of the war in Viet Nam and economic concerns, those missions were canceled.
Americans lost interest in space exploration during the 1980s, so the National Aeronautics and Space Administration decided to re-ignite the public's passion for the space program by putting together a special crew for the space shuttle program. The Challenger crew was diverse in race, gender and religion. And for the first time, a non-astronaut was part of the mission. Sharon Christa McAuliffe, a social studies teacher from New Hampshire, went along for the ride.
That ride ended the lives of all seven crew members on board Challenger space shuttle after it exploded only 73 seconds after lift-off on Jan. 28, 1986.
Instead of building a monument to honor the fallen heroes, families of the seven officers developed Challenger Learning Center. It is a living laboratory and a fitting memorial with the mission to create a "positive learning experience that raises students' expectations of success; fosters in them a long-term interest in science, math and technology; and motivates them to pursue studies in these areas."
Dedicated by Brownsburg Community School Corporation in 1994, the Brownsburg Challenger Learning Center became the 22nd of 43 throughout the United States, Canada and Great Britain. It is comprised of a realistic Mission Control modeled after NASA's Johnson Space Center and a Space Station which provides students with simulated spaceflight experience.
Before students are allowed to participate in the simulated mission, their accompanying teachers must first complete a course about possible future missions. Students then complete six weeks of pre-mission experiments and two weeks follow-up applications training.
"Some of these kids wouldn't normally talk to each other or sit at the same lunch table. But once they get on the mission, they set aside their differences and find a common ground in order to complete the mission," Glen Gill, NCMS eighth grade science teacher, said.
NCMS has sent a crew to the Brownsburg Challenger Learning Center every year since it opened. Teacher Rick Rosner secured the first mission.
Given the opportunity to participate in unique hands-on, minds-on workshops, students develop teamwork, communication, decision-making, problem-solving and multi-tasking skills said Rick Dyar, also a NCMS eighth grade science teacher.
Crews were divided into two teams each of Data, Navigation, Remote, Isolation, Medical, Life Support and Communications. Half of them monitored computers and solved problems in Mission Control while their counterparts worked on the Space Station and performed experiments and gathered data.
Their mission was three-fold:
-To launch a new probe to the highlands area of the Moon.
-Retrieve, repair and relaunch a damaged probe.
-Establish a site for a permanent self-sustaining lunar settlement.
All but one of the six Apollo missions brought back data from the Lowlands area of the Moon. Lowlands are the darker, flat area while Highlands are the lighter, crater area. The astronauts goal is to find a location rich in natural resources.
With probes launched and soil and rock samples collected, the Space Shuttle prepares for its return to Earth.
The Medical team discovers an unknown airborne bacteria. Life Support announces the crew has only five minutes of oxygen remaining. It's a race against time as Navigation reaches Earth's orbit.
"Space Station. This is Mission Control. You've completed your mission. Well done. Welcome home."