Skip to main content

About Us

Our Story

On February 1st, 1999, the Challenger Learning Center of Northwest Indiana officially became the 33rd Center to open as part of a network of facilities devoted to carrying on the educational mission of the Challenger 51L Crew: Dick Scobee, Mike Smith, Ron McNair, Judy Resnik, Greg Jarvis, Ellison Onizuka, and First Teacher in Space, Christa McAuliffe. The center was brought to fruition through the dedication and hard work of teacher Lisa Austgen. 

Starting in 1996, after visiting another Challenger Center, Lisa (an educator herself from Crown Point, IN) worked tirelessly within her community to establish a team that could bring to life a 15,000 square foot facility dedicated to inspiring students by providing teachers with innovative curriculum and an unparalleled educational experience that focuses not only on science, technology, engineering, and math, but also essential 21st Century Skills like problem solving, critical thinking, and team work. After years of hard work, and help from organizations and individuals within the community (like local astronaut hero Jerry Ross), her dream was realized with the grand opening of the Challenger Learning Center of Northwest Indiana.

The Challenger Learning Center of Northwest Indiana is unique since it is one of only two Challenger Learning Centers on the planet to house two mission simulators.  It also holds a multipurpose science lab, an early learning science room, and the Robert H. Rivers Planetarium. Across nearly two and a half decades, Challenger NWI has been a shining gem in Indiana, providing space and STEM programs year round for every part of the community.  From seasoned scientists to the earliest learners, we have impacted science lovers in every generation, seeing over 10,000 guests annually. 

Who We Are

Our mission is to create an exciting and immersive learning environment that promotes the continued exploration of the Earth and space sciences through innovative programs that challenge how teachers educate, students learn, and businesses operate.  We seek to foster in the community a long-term interest in science, technology, engineering, and math, while providing quality educational programs for learners of all ages, abilities and backgrounds. 

Our vision is to merge the power of imagination with the excitement of discovery through distinctive education opportunities that students cannot experience within the classroom.


As a leader in STEM education, Challenger Center and its network of Challenger Learning Centers use experiential STEM education programs that bring STEM subjects to life and inspire students to pursue STEM careers. Challenger Learning Center of Northwest Indiana is part of the global network that reaches hundreds of thousands of students every year. In the aftermath of the Challenger STS-51L tragedy, the crew’s families came together, committed to continuing the education mission. In 1986, the families of the Challenger STS-51L crew created Challenger Center to carry on the spirit of their loved ones and continue the education mission. Learn more at