The Challenger Learning Center is seen here in Kenai, Alaska on Sept. 10, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Progress Days gets NASA visit

The Challenger Learning Center will be hosting a Progress Days event at Soldotna Creek Park on Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., featuring a seminar by a distinguished NASA official.

Tess Caswell is a NASA engineer and analog astronaut — which describes a person who does human spaceflight training while still on Earth — and is an alum of the Challenger Learning Center herself. Colette Gilmour, the marketing and program director at the center, said Caswell has a connection to the educational programs. Caswell grew up on the peninsula and studied at the center when she was younger.

“She’s had a long history with the Challenger Learning Center,” Gilmour said. “It’s been an interest of hers, inspiring her career.”

Caswell will talk about her work at NASA on Thursday, and lead some spacewalk engineer games for children.

Gilmour said the center has spearheaded community events in the past, but this is the first time participating in the Progress Days festivities.

Through most of the pandemic, the Challenger Learning Center has had to close its doors to the public. Gilmour said there was some virtual programming, but nothing compared to the in-person educational events. Now, some of that programming is back.

“That was really exciting to have them in the building … you could see their excitement rather than over the computer,” Gilmour said.

The Challenger Learning Center spacewalk presentation with Caswell is free and open to the public.

“Our main focus is inspiring students and youth of Alaska,” Gilmour said. “It’s going to be a blast.”

Reach reporter Camille Botello at

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