It won't be much longer until kids of all ages can blast off into space from downtown Lockport.

The Challenger Learning Center of Orleans, Niagara and Erie counties is now 90 percent complete on its goal of running space missions for the community. 

Once fully completed, there is room for 16 participants to be in mission control. Each will have their own job duty, desk and monitor.

"It might be navigation, communication, life support," Kathy Michaels, executive director, said.

There will also be a wall of televisions, which will connect the participants to what is happening inside the space station. Mission control was designed to look like Johnson Space Center.

Next to mission control will be the space shuttle, where team members enter, sit down and "watch themselves get blasted off into space."

Once in space, they will walk through the air lock and find themselves at the space station ready to complete a mission. There, similar to the job duties on Earth, each team member will have something to do on the space station. There is a medical station, a glovebox station, an isolation station and more.

The walls between the two rooms are sound proof, Michaels said, so "we won't be able to hear them and they won't be able to hear us, when we successfully don't die on our mission."

In the space station, participants will be able to see what is happening at mission control and, depending on the mission, see what is happening on either the surface of the planet or with the comet that is coming in.

"A rendezvous with a comet" will be the first mission at Challenger Learning Center of ONE, Michaels said.

Once complete, the simulation will be open to school classes and groups, tourists and corporate groups.

"We really want to make this a destination for tourists as well as students," Michaels said. 

Because the simulation is leadership training, Michaels would also like to see sports teams participate. 

"They aren't classes of kids, but they certainly can use a leadership training," she said.

The simulation at Challenger Learning Center of ONE should be open officially toward the second half of the 2016-2017 school year. All along, construction has been dependent on fundraising; addition of finishing components including 36 computers and software awaits the moment when the center has the money in hand to acquire them and pay for their installation.

"It's 90 percent done and it's 90 percent paid for," Michaels said. "What we need is our final .... about $70,000, to finish up."

The simulation is a project that has been a decade in the making. The Challenger Learning Center of ONE celebrated its 10th year of incorporation on Jan. 28.

The center obtained a physical location at Harrison Place in the summer of 2014. To generate some public notice while awaiting simulation construction, the center began offering a variety of classes and activities, including LEGO leagues and planetarium shows. The list has since been expanded to include mini camps, a "mommy and me" science and engineering course and robotics classes.

Installation of the space simulation began in February of 2015.

Once completed, the Challenger ONE, a space education center that is sanctioned by the national Challenger Center, will be opened to the public on weekends, evenings, holidays and non-school days.

During the school year, Michaels has said that she expects about 10,000 students to come to the center for tours, after-school and weekend programs. The other 180 days a year, the center is preparing to accommodate 10,000 tourists.

The center is currently looking for volunteers for after-school and summer programs, along with people to staff the space station and mission control, once open.

For more information about classes, to donate or to schedule a visit to the Challenger site, call 434-3196 or visit CLCLockport.org.

Contact reporter Rikki Cason at 439-9222, ext. 6252.

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