Blogs | 8.15.2022
Former Astronaut Bill Readdy: Supporting STEM Education and Challenger Center Since 1986
Growing up in the 1960s, retired U.S. Navy veteran, Astronaut, and Challenger Center Ambassador and former Board Member William “Bill” Readdy didn’t have the chance to experience STEM education through the hands-on approach Challenger Center uses with students today. For his generation, topics like space launches, satellites, and human space flight were brand new.
Bill joined NASA in 1986, the year of the Challenger accident. From that time until 1992, when he flew his first flight, he worked on rebuilding the space shuttle systems and Challenger’s replacement, Endeavour. Like other astronauts, Bill heard that the families of the Challenger crew conceived the idea of Challenger Center to honor the crew’s memory and continue their mission of education and science. Bill became an early and enthusiastic supporter of the organization.
We sat down with Bill to ask him about his career and why Challenger Center is important to him . . .
Was There a Special Moment That Inspired You to Become an Astronaut?
John Glenn’s Mercury ‘Friendship 7’ orbital mission in February 1962. I was 10 years old and in fourth grade. There were no TVs in the classrooms back then, but the principal had the radio broadcast piped throughout the school using the public announcement system. We used our classroom globe to keep track of where Glenn’s flight was during its three orbits. It was amazing that one orbit took only 90 minutes!
Can You Share a Time in Your Career When You Had to Rely on Teamwork and Collaboration?
When I flew in space, there were literally thousands of people on our team doing all the necessary tasks to get us launched into space and safely home again. Although most people only see the rocket on the launch pad and the astronauts, without those thousands of teammates, the missions simply could not happen. The missions don’t plan themselves, and the rockets don’t assemble themselves or move themselves to the launch pad. Without all of those talented teams of people, there would be no space program or space missions.
What About Challenger Center Makes You Proud?
It’s a joy visiting Challenger Learning Centers and seeing the delight in students’ faces they arrive at the ‘Aha!’ moment when STEM becomes accessible–when they realize they can do it.
I never had the benefit of the Challenger Center’s hands-on approach to STEM education, much less in a space mission environment. I believe Challenger Center reaches students and their teachers on a totally different level, which reinforces the lessons and makes the learning experience FUN. I’m very proud that Challenger Center has been able to bring this experience to now more than half a million teachers and nearly 6 million students around the globe.
Why Do You Believe Challenger Center’s Work Is Important?
According to a 2021 National Science Foundation study of Elementary and Secondary Education, the United States has fallen to 5th in computer literacy, 7th in science, and 25th in mathematics internationally. Challenger Center has been at the forefront of STEM education since its founding, focusing on educating and inspiring the next generation. We must continue that mission of the Challenger crew.
How Can We Encourage Young People to Become Interested in STEM?
Help young people see that learning is fun and doesn’t only have to happen at school. Parents and teachers need to reinforce that learning is a continuous, lifelong process. In fact, many of the technologies and STEM-related professions the next generation will go into haven’t even been invented yet!
What’s a Life Philosophy You’d Like to Share with Younger Generations?
Do your best! Do what you can, with whatever you’ve got, wherever you are.
Become a Challenger Center Supporter
Thank you so much for sharing your story, Bill! If you’d like to join Bill and become a Challenger Center supporter, visit www.challenger.org/donate to give today and help us inspire millions more students.