Tahoe moms, you know the scene: The snow’s coming down. It’s cold and blustery. You feel like you’ve been trapped in the house forever with bickering kids. But, seriously, how many more movies, trampoline parks, and arcades can you take? You’re over it and looking for something to do — something different. Well, look no further, because now, when you tell your kids you’re going to send them to the moon, you can actually mean it. Sort of, anyway.

Within the walls of Reno’s National Automobile Museum awaits something more than a collection of old cars — the Challenger Learning Center of Northern Nevada, one of over 40 existing throughout the United States, Canada, South Korea, and the United Kingdom.

The Challenger Center for Space Science Education was founded by the families of the seven astronauts lost when its namesake shuttle exploded shortly after takeoff in 1986. The nonprofit’s mission is to use space exploration as a theme to create “positive learning experiences that raise students’ expectations of success; foster a long-term interest in mathematics, science, and technology; and motivate students to pursue college and career pathways in these fields.”


A visit offers a great alternative to the same old winter activities. Designed for adults and kids alike, visitors check into an interactive iPad station and “join” the crew, choosing from various space science occupational fields and areas of expertise like geology, astronomy, biochemistry, among others. You even get to print a sticker badge with your name, team, and picture on it.

Be sure to bring a pencil so the kids can stimulate their brains by following the 20-question Astronaut Academy Challenge, which helps navigate the “mission.” The newest exhibit is a first-person experience called Be The Astronaut and allows guests to launch (virtually) into orbit. The stations inform you about everything from NASA’s astronaut wake-up call to music in space, rovers to moon rocks, and rocket design to agriculture. The highlight of your space exploration is a stop at mission control, with oft-changing presentations.

The center’s programming reaches well beyond what visitors experience on any given day, however. With school groups coming in regularly, ranging from elementary through college, the scope of learning is wide-reaching. There are also various space camp programs offered throughout the year.

Ever-popular, the Science Saturdays series, which in 2018 covered topics such as mining the moon, eating in space, and peeking through Hubble, features simulated science journeys, full-dome planetarium programs, hands-on workshops, live presentations, virtual reality headsets, and interactive iPad stations. This series is designed for ages 8 through adult; the $12 fee includes admission to the auto museum. So, after a morning of space discovery and exploration, you can switch gears and check out all of the cars on display representing the history of the automotive industry.