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Longtime Challenger Commander Retires

80-year-old Sherry Mesick taught science and tech to visiting students for more than a decade

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Sherry Mesick was the longest-tenured “commander” at the Challenger Learning Center for Science & Technology, but now that she’s reached 80, the former teacher has decided to hang up her flight suit and retire.

Mesick was hired as a commander in September 2006, helping to simulate the workings of an actual space program for students who visited the Challenger Center, usually on class trips, to learn about the science and technology behind NASA spacecrafts and missions.

“This job was perfect,” Mesick said. “I got my kid fix and had fun doing it!”

Mesick taught fifth grade for 25 years in McHenry, concentrating on science.Longtime Challenger Center commander Sherry Mesick recently retired. Independent Photo by Ken Farver

“I was one of the first teachers to be trained and bring my fifth-grade class to the Challenger when it opened,” she said. “I knew as soon as I had completed a mission that this was something I wanted to do in retirement.”

As a commander, Mesick sometimes worked in the Challenger’s “mission control” and other times served as the flight commander in the spacecraft simulator. The students she taught replicated missions — true to the actual process used by NASA — to find comets and build and launch probes. Mesick even wore a flight suit as commander.

“Sherry joined CLCST in its very early years when the computer system was somewhat unstable,” said Challenger Center Mission Specialist Tom Burg. “She continues to tell the story of how she had to fly missions on one day when the main commander’s station went down and the student ‘astronauts’ flying that day never knew there was a glitch.”

“She would remind the students that long-term travel was the next goal in space and they would be the group that would supply those astronauts of the future,” Burg continued.

As a teacher, Mesick was recognized for her achievements in science and technology education. She was chosen for a “Those Who Excel” award in 1993 and received the Larry Stigelbauer Award for innovative teaching of technology in 2000.  

While teaching at Riverwood Elementary School in McHenry, she developed a special-privilege program which recognized students who did their work in a timely fashion, behaved well, helped at responsible jobs in the school and earned at least a B-plus average. When she retired, her teammates renamed the awards as the “Mesick Merit Awards.” 

“It was quite an honor that even though I was no longer there, my name remained,” Mesick said.

She was asked to share her science unit several times by county and local administrative units as well as the District 15 school board.

Mesick was given a retirement luncheon by her fellow Challenger staff May 22.

“I am a two-time cancer survivor. I keep my mind and body busy and thank God every day for allowing me more time on Earth,” she said. “So even though I will no longer be flying missions, I will not be idle.”

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