Five astronauts, an engineer and a civilian teacher lost their lives in the name of discovery and science.
Students from Clay Community Schools continue the "mission" of learning every year, when classes participate in the Challenger Learning Center missions, either in Brownsburg or Indianapolis. A third Challenger Center is in Hammond, Ind.
In December, Amy Hardey's fifth-grade class from Meridian Elementary School participated in a mission to send a probe to Comet Encke at the Indianapolis Challenger Learning Center.
The students fundraised approximately $1,500 to participate in the program, by selling Butter Braids frozen pastry dough. A local sorority also made a donation to help fund the trip.
Students spent six weeks in class preparing for their Dec. 11 mission, learning about latitude and longitude, graphing and the color spectrum.
A logo patch was designed, and printed on t-shirts for the whole class.
They also learned job skills.
The students had to apply for their jobs, and Hardey "hired" the crew by selecting each child's duty.
Hardey spent time in Indianapolis training for the program before bringing the materials back to the classroom.
When they arrived at the Challenger Center, the students and adults were separated. The staff told the adults the day would be hands off, and students would be doing their own problem solving.
"I was amazed about what they could do without our help," Hardey said of her 32 fifth-graders.
Hardey felt the trip helped her students think independently, which will help them solve problems on standardized tests like the ISTEP+ test.
Students who did not cooperate well before the mission worked together and, according to Hardey, the class is a much closer-knit unit.
Hardey wanted to give the opportunity to her students because not all eighth-grade students get to participate.
She said many of the Meridian Elementary students are from low-income families, and it was great "seeing these kids be able to do things that NASA scientists do everyday."
The students even made a great discovery: a new comet.
A meeting was called to decide whether to continue to study Comet Encke, which NASA is currently studying, or to study the newly discovered comet.
The class chose to study the new comet, and named it Comet Hardey after their teacher.
North Clay Middle School eighth-grade students have participated in the Brownsburg Challenger Learning Center programs since 1994, when the center opened.
Students must apply, and 32 students are chosen to participate.
Science teacher Glenn Gill helps organize the field trip.
The eighth-graders prepared for the trip through several after school programs, and took the field trip Tuesday, Jan. 22.
Students completed a mission to the moon, using problem-solving skills and applying the knowledge they learned during training.
Gill said several parents accompanied the group, and received a tour of the building.
"We get such a variety of applicants every year, we get kids who don't hang out together at school. They have differences, but they put them aside to complete the mission," Gill said. "The kids put in a lot of good time and effort into this. They did an excellent job of representing North Clay."
The families of those on board founded the Challenger Center for Space Science Education shortly after the shuttle explosion.
The goal of the Center is to inspire students to become passionate about science and math through space, and to learn how to work as a team.
Indiana is home to three of the 52 Challenger Learning Centers in the United States and Europe.