Wings Magazine

McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center grand opening

discovery_centerFeb. 3, 2009 – In the Midst of a $15 million expansion, New England's Premier Air and Space Science Center Opens March 6, 2009.

February 3, 2009  By Administrator

 McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center

With a Mercury-Redstone rocket at the front entry and a prominent observatory dome, New England's premier air and space science center will make its home in Concord, New Hampshire, opening on March 6.

The new 45,000 square-foot McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center will house new interactive science exhibits, an expanded gift shop, café, and theater space. The new Discovery Center is a major transformation of the Christa McAuliffe Planetarium. The first phase of this transformation comes after ten years of planning and development.

"The McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center will expand the mission of the Christa McAuliffe Planetarium, giving our children the opportunity to learn and dream about the stars and beyond. It will also stand as a lasting tribute to two of our state's, and our nation's, greatest heroes and serve as a reminder of the important role New Hampshire has played in the exploration of space," New Hampshire Governor John Lynch said.

"The McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center will be New England's preeminent center for experiential education in space science, astronomy, aviation, and Earth science," says Planetarium Commission Chair Rich Ashooh.


The new McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center is a lively science center, featuring 21st century interactive exhibits on aviation, astronomy, and Earth and space sciences, a state-of-the-art planetarium and a variety of science and engineering programs.

The engaging, robust educational programs are geared towards families, teens, seniors, students, community groups, and lifelong learners of all ages. The Discovery Center will also offer space for conferences and special events, and a NASA Educator Resource Center.

"The Discovery Center will improve the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) resources available to K-12 teachers, and offer a learning environment that will benefit educators and their students," says David McDonald, M.Ed., Director of Education at the new center.

The 45,113 square-foot science center, quadruple the size of the planetarium, was designed by Dignard Architectural Services of New Boston, NH.  The principal of the firm, Roger Dignard, was lead architect on the original planetarium building when he worked for Lavallee-Brensinger in Manchester, NH.  Dignard sought to reflect the futuristic subject matter of the Discovery Center in the design of the new facility, while integrating it with the design of the original building, so that the two could be seen as a seamless whole. The open atrium and skylights in the Discovery Center give the sense of soaring inherent in flight and space exploration.

Visitors to the Discovery Center will be greeted by an outdoor 92-foot-tall Mercury-Redstone rocket. The interactive, multi-sensory exhibit around it tells the story of New Hampshire hero Alan Shepard, his historic flight as the first American in space on May 5, 1961, and the story of the Space Race that inspired much of our current aerospace initiatives and high technology spin-offs.

The new McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center will offer its visitors a lively air and space science center and will open with these new exhibits on March 6th:
•    Tribute to Two NH Heroes- biographical information on Alan Shepard and Christa McAuliffe;
•    Space Shuttle Model – A large-scale model of the space shuttle with external fuel tank and solid rocket boosters;
•    Expedition to Mars – Join in the planning a human expedition to Mars- and think about the problems we will encounter when we send humans to Mars;
•    Imaging Our Universe – Explains that by using a variety of technologies, from digital imaging to detecting radiation left over from the birth of the universe, telescopes, satellites, space probes, and rovers are helping us answer questions about our solar system and beyond;
•    Studying the Atmosphere from Space – How satellites monitor weather and climate on Earth and how satellites monitor conditions on the Sun that can influence conditions on Earth;
•    Be a Weather Person – Using Chroma-Key technology, the visitor plays the role of a television weather forecaster;
•    Getting the Big Picture of Earth – Visitors learn about satellite observations that get a global look at processes and cycles and how they change and evolve over time;
•    Comparing Earth to Other Planets and Moons – This exhibit looks at other planets and moons, giving us clues to how the solar system formed and a more complete understanding of Earth;
•    Redstone Plaza – The Redstone Plaza will feature a full-sized replica of a Mercury-Redstone rocket. Once the weather warms up, an interactive exhibit surrounding the rocket will tell the story of New Hampshire hero Alan Shepard and his historic flight as the first American in space on May 5, 1961.
•    Additionally, the Discovery Center will be the first traveling venue for Conservation Quest, an interactive science and engineering exhibition on wise energy usage, from the Stepping Stones Museum in Norwalk, CT.

The planetarium has undergone impressive improvements as well. The upgraded 103-seat facility will use state-of-the art Digital Sky, a full-dome video system with a database of more than110,000 stars, stellar and planetary objects extending out the to edge of the known universe.  Digital, interactive shows on astronomy, Earth and space science presented by educators with strong science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) backgrounds are complemented by show-related student activities and curricula as well as exhibits and related programs on these topics in the Discovery Center.

The Discovery Center will be constantly evolving. The completion of the first phase of development marks the beginning of the transformation. New simulation experiences, interactive exhibits and web-based experiences will be added to the science center periodically over the coming months and years. Future additions include a Challenger Learning Center, simulated flight school, and interactive exhibits and engaging programs on the physics of the universe, as well as traveling exhibits from science centers across North America.

According to Erle Pierce, board president of Touch the Future, Inc., a major goal of the program offerings at the Discovery center is to focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) as a life pathway. "The McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center's key purpose is to excite young minds, to inspire young people to take joy in the wonders of the STEM disciplines and to eventually pursue careers in these fields." 

Christa McAuliffe:
In 1986 Christa McAuliffe stepped from the classroom into history. As part of a new approach by NASA, she was selected from over 11,000 applicants to be NASA's first "Teacher-in-Space". Her mission, to educate and excite young minds in science and astronomy, continues to be realized in the planetarium and science center named in her honor in Concord, NH. McAuliffe taught school until the birth of her first child. Shortly after McAuliffe obtained her Masters in School Administration in 1978 from Bowie State College, she moved to Concord, NH with her husband and son.  After the birth of her second child and enjoying time home with her family, her love of teaching led her back to the classroom. McAuliffe taught at Bow Memorial School, and then moved to Concord High School. She was also actively involved in the community.

Alan Shepard:
Alan B Shepard was born on November 18, 1923, in East Derry, NH. He attended primary and secondary schools in East Derry and Derry, NH, and received a Bachelor of Science degree from the United States Naval Academy in 1944. He graduated from Naval Test Pilot School in 1951 and the Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island in 1957. Shepard was one of the Mercury astronauts named by NASA in April 1959, and he holds the distinction of being the first American to journey into space. On May 5, 1961, in the Freedom 7 spacecraft, Shepard was launched by a Redstone rocket on a ballistic trajectory suborbital flight–a flight that carried him to an altitude of 116 statute miles and to a landing point 302 statute miles down the Atlantic Missile Range. For Shepard's second flight, he traveled nearly half a million miles to the Moon and back as commander of Apollo 14.  Shepard logged a total of 216 hours and 57 minutes in space, of which 9 hours and 17 minutes were spent in lunar surface EVA. He resumed his duties as Chief of the Astronaut Office in June 1971 and served in this capacity until he retired from NASA and the Navy on August 1, 1974.

(Biography information from NASA's Johnson Space Center.)

Christa McAuliffe Planetarium History:
The Christa McAuliffe Planetarium was developed to honor McAuliffe's legacy. The idea for a planetarium was suggested by Louise Wiley, a teacher from Northwood, New Hampshire, and was chosen from among many other ideas because it combined McAuliffe's dream of traveling to space with her dedication to teaching. In April 1988, the New Hampshire Legislature appropriated funds to build the Planetarium, and ground- breaking took place on October 26, 1988. Construction was completed in little more than a year. On June 21, 1990, the Planetarium began its mission to educate, incite and entertain learners of all ages in the sciences and humanities by actively engaging them in the exploration of astronomy and space science. Since then over one million people – including over 300,000 schoolchildren – have passed through the doors to participate in The Ultimate Field Trip.

The McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center honors the legacies of two New Hampshire heroes and is a place for visitors to explore, discover, and be inspired  As the only air and space science center in New England, it welcomes all ages to have fun while learning about the universe in which we live. The new McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center features 21st century interactive exhibits on aviation, astronomy, and Earth and space sciences, a state-of-the-art planetarium and a variety of engaging programs. More information at

Touch the Future, Inc. is a not for profit corporation created in 1999 with the sole purpose of supporting programs and initiatives at the Christa McAuliffe Planetarium. Visit them on the web at:


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