Blogs  |  10.24.2022

We Have Liftoff! An Experience of a Lifetime for the 2022 Trailblazing STEM Educator Awardees

During the AIAA Awards Gala this past spring, Challenger Center and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) celebrated the five winners of the inaugural Trailblazing STEM Educator Award—Cedric Turner, Jackie Blumer, Jennifer Cheesman, Katrina Harden Williams, and Kellie Taylor.

In addition to receiving cash awards and free access to Challenger Center’s STEM education programs, as a grand prize winner, Jackie Blumer was also invited to join Club for the Future, Blue Origin’s nonprofit, at a future New Shepard launch. Fast forward a few months . . . our Club for the Future partners made good on that promise and so much more. All of the Trailblazing STEM Educator awardees were invited to attend the NS-22 launch, along with representatives from Challenger Center and AIAA. It was time to head to Texas!

3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . . Liftoff!

Most space launches mean a very early wake-up call. At 3:00 a.m., the group boarded buses in El Paso for the ride to Van Horn, home of Blue Origin’s launch facilities. The first stop was Astronaut Village, a short drive from the launch site and where the astronauts stay before launch day. Each astronaut is given a silver Airstream trailer to sleep in, and the surrounding area includes a bar, a dining area, and a fire pit. The views are stunning, with mountains surrounding the entire site. On this particular morning, everyone was treated to a beautiful sunrise.

The countdown to launch was about to start. After listening to safety briefings, all guests hopped into SUVs for a short drive up the mountain to the launch viewing stand—the anticipation was palpable. Then it was time . . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . . liftoff!

Watching New Shepard take off from Launch Site One was an experience of a lifetime. Waiting for the infamous sonic boom, watching the booster land, and seeing the capsule bring the astronauts back safely. It was a perfect launch and landing. The viewing stand erupted in cheers. There were high fives, tears, hugs, champagne toasts, and a lot of photos.

“Witnessing the Blue Origin Rocket Launch was one of the most impressive things I ever witnessed,” shared Cedric Turner. “But what was more impressive was the time I spent with people whose worlds would have never intertwined otherwise. We’ve stayed in contact and are currently working on getting exposure in urban communities across the country.”

The Experience Continues . . .

Blue Origin’s hospitality team created a full-day experience for guests. After the launch, the group headed to the landing site to see the booster up close and personal, as well as get some photos with the NS-22 astronauts. Each astronaut was introduced and celebrated during lunch before the final stop at the Astronaut Training Center. The group climbed into a Blue Origin capsule replica and experienced a simulation of a launch—the perfect end to a perfect day.

Jackie Blumer shared, “The Blue Origin NS-22 launch was amazing. It was neat to get to see the camp and training facility, witness the launch, and then mingle with the astronauts afterward. After returning to school, my students were so impressed with the pictures and videos. I think it means so much more to the students to know their teacher was there to experience it. I know from experience talking about something you see on TV is one thing but being able to describe in detail everything that happened, including what the launch sounds and looks like, takes that explanation to a whole different level.”

Challenger Center and AIAA are incredibly proud to partner with Blue Origin and Club for the Future and share in the goal of inspiring the next generation of explorers. Having the opportunity to attend a space launch is truly special. A huge thank you to Blue Origin and Club for the Future for their generous invitation, incredible hospitality, and, most importantly, lifelong memories.

2023 Trailblazing STEM Educator Award Nominations–Now Open!

If you know a K-12 educator who goes above and beyond to inspire the next generation of explorers and innovators in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), nominate them for the 2023 Trailblazing STEM Educator Award! Applications are now open and close on December 15, 2022. Learn more on AIAA’s website.