All systems go for students at Challenger Center

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Area school children are getting a first hand look into the future thanks to two learning centers in the Indianapolis metro area. The Challenger Center has students reaching for the stars.

Every year, hundreds of school children step out of the classroom and into a virtual world of space flight.

It's all systems go here at the Challenger Center of Indianapolis, even though the final voyage of the Space Shuttle program concluded last July. Instructors here say NASA missions over the years continue to intrigue students here at home.

"I was an isolation specialist. I basically operated a robotic arm. It moved me towards thinking about a career in NASA or robotics," said Hannah Allen, a sixth grader at Valley Mills.

"With the Challenger Center I was able to figure out how it actually worked, and how it is complicated. It's not just a simple go up and see the stars," said Carlee Merkling, another student.

There are three Challenger Centers in the state of Indiana: Decatur Township on the city's southwest side, Brownsburg and Hammond.

There are nearly fifty of these centers across the country, and while the theme is space, the lessons here focus on science, technology, engineering and math. The backdrop of a space mission has a dramatic effect on students.

"It's amazing, because we see students who have no confidence in themselves, haven't been given the opportunity to be leaders, and when they leave here, they realize they have a lot of potential and they're just not getting that in the classroom at a very young age," said Cyndy Meier, lead flight director.

"It's employing them into a real job. They have an actual task to complete, in a certain amount of time, and if they don't complete their task, the mission might fail. So it's all tied together," said Jason Seaver, sixth grade teacher, Valley Mills.

It's the inspiration and wonder that teachers say they look for in their students - in a setting that can't be duplicated in the classroom.