The Challenger Learning Center of Alaska has found a way to get Alaska school children into outer space: an unusual school bus.
This week, the Kenai-based center for space and science education, launched a new outreach program called School Bus to Space. Bill Oefelein, Alaska's first official NASA astronaut, came to Kenai Monday to participate.
The center is working with Phillips Alaska and NASA to send educators, scientists and aerospace professionals into schools to work directly with students.
"We are able to take our wares with us so kids can interact in a hands-on manner," said Jamie Meyers, the new flight director at the Challenger Center.
Oefelein grew up in Anchorage and is working at the Johnson Space Center in Houston while awaiting his first assignment on the Space Shuttle.
He visited Kenai Middle School, making a presentation to students about recent NASA projects and answering questions about his career. He gave the school a presentation board that included a small Alaska flag that had orbited on a shuttle mission.
"The Earth is only so big," he told students. "Human beings have always been explorers."
Oefelein said afterward that he is eager to keep Alaskans informed about what is happening in space exploration and to cultivate the next generation of Alaska explorers.
He was scheduled to travel to Anchorage Tuesday, Fairbanks today and Valdez on Thursday before returning to Texas.
The School Bus to Space program will operate the rest of this school year with programs planned for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, Anchorage, Fairbanks, Valdez and the North Slope. It is funded with a grant from Phillips Alaska.
Thursday, the Challenger Center will continue the momentum with a Super Space Science Night at Kenai Middle School for sixth-graders and their parents to have fun, share refreshments, talk about the School Bus to Space program and participate in space-related activities such as launching miniature rockets.
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