BANGOR, Maine — Former space shuttle pilot and commander Rick Hauck and June Scobee Rodgers, widow of space shuttle Challenger 51-L commander Dick Scobee and founding chairwoman of the Challenger Center for Space Science Education, made re-entry into Bangor on Friday.
Both Hauck and Scobee Rodgers were in the city to help the Challenger Learning Center of Maine promote its goal of exposing middle school students to more science and mathematics.
“This is a celebration of how far we’ve come, how much we’ve accomplished, and how we make a difference,” said Scobee Rodgers, who recently has completed a book titled “Silver Linings” about her life before, during and after the Challenger explosion. “This celebrates the mission of the Challenger crew and the legacy left for them.”
The fact that the Challenger Learning Center of Maine is entering its eighth year of existence as the national Challenger Center for Space Science Education observes its 25th anniversary gave local center representatives and supporters a chance to throw a party, which in this case was the fourth annual Astronauts Ball at the Hilton Garden Inn.
About 100 people attended the formal ball, which featured exotic drinks and snacks with interstellar names, a NASA photo exhibit, talks by both Hauck and Scobee Rodgers, dinner, raffles and a dance with a live band.
“When I started with the Challenger Center as a marketing-fundraising consultant, a lot of people didn’t know who we were or what we did,” said Susan Jonason, executive director of the center. “I figured if we had a fundraiser, it’s something that could become very good for raising funds as well as our profile.”
Hauck didn’t have to be asked twice. The NASA veteran who commanded two shuttle missions and piloted another now lives in Winter Harbor with his wife. This was his second time attending the ball.
“I was commander of the first space shuttle flight after the loss of Challenger so I feel a special kinship to the objective,” said Hauck, who joined the astronaut corps with Dick Scobee in 1978. “It’s a wonderful program that encourages middle school students to study science, technology and mathematics, so I’m here to support that cause.
“The youngsters seem so engaged and motivated. They’re excited to be part of a science- and math-based program. We can’t afford to lose a generation of young minds.”
Scobee Rodgers was happy to be back in Bangor.
“This is my third time to the learning center and fourth time here overall,” said the Alabama native who grew up in Texas. “My first time, I came on the back of a motorcycle from Tennessee when we were riding all over the country. I stayed in the hotel by the airport and recovered for a couple days.”
Her latest book was literally 15 years in the making, she says.
“It’s something I’ve put off talking about, but I figured if it would help me, it might help other people,” said Scobee Rodgers. “I was challenged to write about my youth and the challenges I was forced to overcome, so I wrote it to help others as well as myself. Not just for all the Challenger families, but for anyone, and it’s amazing how many people have told me how they’ve been helped.”
Jonason has been with the Challenger Learning Center for four years after working for the Bangor Symphony Orchestra for nearly 15 years.
“I came from an arts background, but when I started doing some consulting work for this center and seeing what happens to kids who come to the center and the way they transform, it started to transform me,” Jonason said. “Our programs are integrated right into their school curriculum and it’s all oriented toward hands-on involvement and practical applications so they can relate better to it.”