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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 13, 2010

Grant will keep space center open

By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Education Writer

The 17-year-old Challenger Space Center at Barbers Point Elementary School, which was under the threat of closure after lawmakers eliminated the program's budget, will be funded next year through a grant secured by the governor's office, education officials said.

The grant is expected to cover the space center's $245,000 budget, which goes mostly toward salaries for three teachers and a director and other operational costs, said Gail Awakuni, an acting Leeward complex area superintendent.

Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona is expected to announce the funding this morning at a news conference at the space center.

More than 5,000 students a year visit the center, which is considered by educators to be a proven program to get students interested in science and technology, Awakuni said.

"There was a lot of community support to try to save the center," Awakuni said. "The teachers had written to the governor also. You know, it's a national program and it's linked with NASA and it just would have been a shame for it to have been cut."

Liane Kim, director of the Challenger Space Center, said teachers and students from all over the state wrote to lawmakers and the governor to save the program. The funding is only for the upcoming school year, so Kim said the ultimate goal is for lawmakers to reinstate the program's budget for subsequent years.

"Right now we are just really happy that we can continue to serve our students and help meet the needs of (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education in the state," Kim said.

The center is one of 14 Challenger Centers around the world and the only one in Hawai'i, the birthplace of Ellison Onizuka, one of seven astronauts killed in 1986 when the space shuttle Challenger exploded minutes after takeoff.

For many elementary and middle school science classes, the space program is at the center of lessons that occur in the classroom. Students undergo two months of classroom preparation that culminates in a two-hour simulated space mission at the Challenger Space Center.

Sixth-graders rendezvous with Comet Halley, while lessons for seventh- and eighth-graders revolve around a moon mission where students lead a simulated lunar landing.

The elimination of the Challenger Space Center's budget was a small part of about $142 million in budget cuts by lawmakers and Gov. Linda Lingle to the state Department of Education next year.