Westwood students pay tribute to astronauts during ceremony
Students from Westwood Elementary School released 17 balloons Feb. 1 to honor each of the fallen astronauts from Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia tragedies at a ceremony hosted by the Woodstock Challenger Learning Center for Science & Technology.
Each year, NASA pays tribute to the astronauts around this time of the year. The day of the ceremony marked the 10th anniversary of the Columbia disaster. The Apollo disaster occurred Jan. 27, 1967, and the Challenger tragedy happened Jan. 28, 1986.
“It’s kind of a beautiful thing that we’re able to celebrate them all together,” said Chantel Madson, director of the Woodstock Challenger Center.
Just months after the Challenger disaster, which killed seven astronauts when the space shuttle exploded 73 seconds after liftoff, the Challenger Center for Space Science Education was formed.
The members who established the organization envisioned a place where children, teachers and citizens could conduct experiments, solve problems, and work together by immersing themselves in space-like surroundings. The ultimate goal was to spark youth interest and joy in science and engineering.
“We want [students] to know that they can do anything they are interested in or that they can set their mind to,” Madson said in response to what she feels the Challenger Center offers.
The first Learning Center opened in Houston in August 1988. Today, there are 43 Learning Centers in the U.S., Canada, South Korea and the United Kingdom.
Madson said fifth-grade students from throughout the region are the primary users of the facility. The students use what they’ve learned in the classroom to conduct mock missions into space and take part in hands-on science experiments. She said the center usually has two schools per day take part in the activities.
Nathan Sciarro, a Westwood fifth- grader, attended the remembrance ceremony.
“It’s good to remember the astronauts and what they did,” Sciarro said. He said he admires the astronauts who have followed their lead and are not afraid to continue space exploration despite the tragedies.
Sciarro said his class has spent classroom time learning about the different jobs and roles offered at NASA. He said knowing those positions made him understand the mock mission greater.
“I think [the mock mission] went well for most of us,” he said.
To learn more about the Woodstock Challenger Learning Center, visit www.challengerillinois.org.