By Chelsea Bailey, Assistant Features Editor —
Dr. June Scobee Rodgers, widow of fallen Challenger Commander Richard “Dick” Scobee, spent NASA’s Day of Remembrance, at the Challenger STEM Learning Center with other prominent women of Chattanooga.
Dr. Scobee Rodgers, founding Chair of the Challenger Center, and other influential women from the area, including Sue Culpepper, Debbie McKee, Vicki Cherry, Cindy Sexton, Arline Mann, Lisa Frost, Ellen Heavilon, Jackie Mohney, Judy Spiegel, Sharon McKee, Carol Mutter, Sandra Longer, Gayanne Burns, Jennifer Patel and Nancy Prebul, set off to Mars at the STEM Learning Center on The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s campus on Thursday, Jan. 25.
On Jan. 28, 1986, Challenger Space Shuttle set off carrying Christa McAuliffe, a teacher and first non-astronaut sent into space, with the mission to record a series of science lessons. Tragically, the shuttle exploded just 73 seconds after take-off. Before the mission, Dr. Rodgers recalled the day the Challenger launched as if it were yesterday.
“It was a great, exciting day. The teacher in space got a lot of attention. Everybody gathered to see the civilian fly in space,” said Rodgers. “Just a few seconds after liftoff, a terrible tragedy happened. Kathie [Scobee Fulgham] lost her daddy – my husband, and all that beloved crew, the sweet teacher.”
Shortly after the accident, Dr. Rodgers was inspired to find a way to carry on the mission of McAuliffe, Scobee and the crew.
“A few days after the accident, President Reagan and Nancy Reagan were sitting next to me at a wonderful memorial to the crew and a fly-over mission,” said Rodgers. “The airplanes that were flying over reminded me that NASA was going to continue their mission, but who was going to continue the teacher mission? That’s when I got to work.”
Thus, the Challenger STEM Learning Center was born. Over 30 years later, there are nearly 50 centers worldwide, none of which would exist without Dr. Scobee Rodgers.
“It was my mom who, while the rest of us were grieving so heavily, thought of a way for the lessons from space to continue. She thought of the Challenger Center,” said Kathie Scobee Fulgham, daughter of Dick Scobee and Dr. Scobee Rodgers. “Now they’re all over the world and children everyday are launching their imaginations into space, learning about technology, communications, science, everything that they will need for the future.”
That’s just what Dr. Scobee Rodgers wanted.
“The idea was to create something that children could do that the crew was willing to risk their lives for – something they loved so much – so the children could continue that mission,” said Rodgers. “That’s the joy for me, to see a mission of children.”
Kassidy Weber, graduate assistant at the Challenger STEM Learning Center, helps groups complete various missions everyday.
“I love the hands-on activities and experiments that are available for student learning,” said Weber.
On this day of remembrance, Dr. Scobee Rodgers hosted a different kind of mission – a women’s mission to Mars. The mission marked the first time Rodgers held an event at UTC’s STEM Learning Center and the first mission with only women.
“Now the mission with women is going to be fun,” said Dr. Rodgers before the simulated mission to Mars.“I think it’s even more important nowadays that women be lifted up, emboldened and supported.”
The women worked to successfully relieve the crew that had been living on Mars for two years. Of course, this was all done here on Earth with the Challenger Center’s advanced, hands-on simulations.
The Challenger Center recently announced that astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) will be filming some of Christa McAuliffe’s lessons, as well as some new ones, to put on the Challenger Center’s webcast.