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Heartland Community College

About the Challenger Learning Center


Build a scientifically literate public and shape our future leaders to help improve quality of life across the globe - not just through pragmatic teaching, but by the power of vision, inspiration, and innovation.


The mission of the Challenger Learning Center is to engage students and teachers in dynamic, hands-on exploration and discovery opportunities that strengthen knowledge in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), inspire students to pursue careers in these fields, and provide an outlet to learn and apply important life skills.


Our primary goals are to:

  • provide hands-on, real world, interactive educational experiences to students of all ages throughout central Illinois
  • conduct simulated missions for school groups as a culminating experience to an interdisciplinary classroom curriculum emphasizing Common Core Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, and 21st Century Learning Skills
  • improve the quality of Illinois education by providing state-of-the-art training and professional development opportunities and curriculum resources for classroom teachers
  • increase student interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers by raising awareness of opportunities in those fields

National History

On January 28, 1986, the seven crew members of the Space Shuttle Challenger/STS-51L “Teacher in Space” mission set out to broaden educational horizons and advance scientific knowledge. Their mission exemplified man’s noblest and most wondrous qualities – to explore, discover, and teach. To the nation’s shock and sorrow, their Space Shuttle exploded 73 seconds after liftoff.

In the aftermath of the Challenger accident, the crew’s families came together, firmly committed to the belief that they must carry on the spirit of their loved ones by continuing the Challenger crew’s educational mission. In April 1986, they created Challenger Center for Space Science Education (Challenger Center). They envisioned a place where children, teachers, and citizens alike could touch the future: manipulate equipment, conduct experiments, solve problems, and work together -- immersing themselves in space-like surroundings.

The goal: to spark youth interest and joy in science and engineering: a spark that could change their lives.

The result: the creation of a Challenger Learning Center.

The first Challenger Learning Center opened in Houston in August 1988. Today, there are more than 40 Learning Centers in the U.S., Canada, South Korea, and the United Kingdom. Collectively, these centers reach more than 400,000 middle-school aged students and 40,000 teachers each year. Since 1986, Challenger Centers have impacted more than 4 million students. It maintains strong partnerships with NASA, other federal agencies, universities, and the aerospace industry who support in keepimg curriculum current.

Local History

Dedicated on December 17, 2003, the Challenger Learning Center became the second Challenger Learning Center in Illinois. Originally part of the Prairie Aviation Museum, the Challenger Learning Center was located in the former airport terminal in Bloomington. As part of the museum, the Challenger Learning Center provided K-8 missions, summer camps, corporate programs, scouts, and other public events.

In December 2009, the Challenger Learning Center moved to Heartland Community College. Located in the Astroth Community Education Center, the Challenger Learning Center continues to provide these programs and has expanded its program offerings to include distance learning missions, new summer camps, Spring Break camps, and much more. In February 2014, the Challenger Learning Center celebrated 10 years of inspiring, exploring, and learning in Central Illinois with a poster contest and public event. Since the 2003 dedication, the Challenger Learning Center has impacted more than 75,000 students and adults.


Join us as we inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers, and explorers by making a donation to the Challenger Learning Center. Your support allows us to: 

  • serve a diverse range of students throughout central Illinois
  • provide state-of-the-art programs that utilize current technology
  • conduct high-quality professional development workshops
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