Space centre would provide out of this world learning opportunities

Bundaberg Regional Council is investigating a NASA-affiliated Challenger Learning Centre for the region.
Bundaberg Regional Council is investigating a NASA-affiliated Challenger Learning Centre for the region. PHOTO: iStock

Educational and tourism opportunities could skyrocket in the Bundaberg Region with Council considering the establishment of a NASA-affiliated Challenger Learning Centre.

The Challenger Learning Centre organisation is a USA-based not-for-profit group developed by families of the crew of the 1986 failed Challenger mission.

There are centres located around the world including the United States, United Kingdom and South Korea.

In 1986, the space shuttle Challenger was carrying a 12cm long wooden rib from Bert Hinkler's glider when it blew up, killing all seven crew members.

The fragment was thought to be lost, but it was later found floating in the ocean over which the Challenger broke up, still in its NASA bag.

Council has received a consultant’s report outlining possibilities for a Bundaberg-based space learning facility which would be the first of its kind in Australia.

If it goes ahead the centre will feature a totally immersive space experience that could draw school students from throughout Queensland.

Students would be ushered into a briefing room to receive instructions for their virtual mission before boarding a transport vehicle and proceeding through the air lock to the space station.

Throughout the experience, which would include role playing, creative thinking and problem solving, they would be communicating with mission control.

To ensure school groups receive maximum benefit from the experience, teachers would be provided with pre-mission learning materials ahead of visiting the centre.

The experience would be customised to match education outcomes with work stations that can be tailored around areas of interest such as robotics or chemical science.

Challenger centre a priority project

Mayor Jack Dempsey said the unique and exciting opportunity was something Council was actively pursuing.

“The Challenger Learning Centre would be a priceless commodity for our region to value-add to our existing attractions,” Mayor Dempsey said.

“From the turtles to the Hinkler Hall of Aviation we already have many tourism facilities which offer educational opportunities.

“The addition of a space learning centre with direct links to NASA could make us Queensland’s most sought-after school camp destination.”

He said that while funding needed to be determined for the centre he had already received initial support from all levels of government.

“The Prime Minister, the Premier, the former Education Minister and local members have all provided their support for a Bundaberg Challenger Learning Centre.

“Local stakeholders including CQUniversity and Community Lifestyle Support have also given the concept their tick of approval.

“Council is in the process of sourcing grants for this project. It’s one of our projects in the mix for consideration as part of the Regional Deal with the State and Federal Governments.”

Mayor Dempsey said Council would continue to advocate for the project and work with its consultant to develop the concept further.

“At this stage we have identified four potential sites for the centre which include the old fire station building on Woongarra Street, within the CQUniversity campus or by purchasing property within the Bundaberg CBD.”

Fun and engaging education

CQUniversity Associate Vice-Chancellor Luke Sinclair said a Bundaberg-based Challenger Learning Centre would fill a gap in STEM education.

“An opportunity like this really helps not only the region but the state and the nation,” Mr Sinclair said.

“This is one of those fantastic opportunities where it’s not just about giving students an experience in space but it’s also about the science and engineering.”

He said the centre could introduce school children to the sense of wonder a career in science, engineering, technology and mathematics can offer.

“It opens up the possibilities to the next generation of kids and to our educators.

“We really look forward to working with Council and as many other stakeholders as possible to try to make this a reality.”

Further opportunities

If constructed it is envisaged that a Bundaberg Challenger Learning Centre could offer other services outside of school group tours.

Based on the capabilities of other Challenger Learning Centres around the globe the centre could offer corporate team-building workshops, a holiday STEM program and workshops in technology like drone training.