Fifth graders get out of this world experience at Challenger Learning Center

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Going to Mars is closer in reach than you may think, especially if you take a trip to the Challenger Learning Center.

It’s a trip many local fifth graders will get to have, and a program that started over 30 years ago.

“For our young people they’re too young to remember, they weren’t born in 1986,” said commander Andy Raab. “But 1986 was the year for the challenger space shuttle tragedy where Christa McAuliffe and the other six astronauts lost their lives in the tragic explosion. In a way it’s a lasting legacy to the memory of Christa McAuliffe and the challenger astronauts,” he said.

Even though it’s supposed to be for fifth graders, News10NBC’s Briana Collier was a fifth grader for a day as she prepared to go to Mars, starting with going through the airlock machine before getting into the spacecraft.

Once on the spacecraft, everything is quite literally hands-on, all the sights and sounds.

Something Commander Lauren Raines said really sparks kids’ interest in science.

“For some it inspires some kids to then become and have a career in math or science or technology,” commander Raines said. “Some it inspires to actually want to do something with space, others it inspires to become a medical doctor or a nurse or an engineer working with robots.”

Kids will also get to mix chemicals and navigate through the spacecraft, but if you spill now, it’s decontamination time.

Though it’s all fun and games, it’s something the commanders said helps kids learn.

“We learn by playing,” said Commander Raab. “We learn by experimenting and we learn by having fun and a great time and this is an experience that a young person is going to remember for the rest of their lives.”

It’s creating an experience that is unmatched.

There are also different accommodations for kids with disabilities and sensory issues, including noise canceling headphones, alternative seating and fidget toys.

The first mission is scheduled for Friday, September 15.