New in Concord: 35-foot shuttle slide promises to entertain young visitors at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center


Monitor staff

Published: 06-16-2023 4:10 PM

Getting to play inside of a spaceship is the stuff of childhood dreams.

That dream can become a reality for children visiting the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord, only this spaceship comes complete with slides and climbing ladders.

The centerpiece of a new Science Playground at the center is a 35-foot shuttle-inspired slide created by Miracle Recreation, said to be only one of only five in the world.

Set to open on July 1, the new Science Playground was designed to entertain and educate young visitors with its dramatic visual appeal and features like outdoor musical equipment including a xylophone and symbols that demonstrate the physics and mathematics of sound. When children touch or press the instruments, the vibration causes sound waves of different pitches to move and change, said Jeanne Gerulskis, the executive director of the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center.

Funded through donations. the new playground is a continuation of the center’s educational programs, but takes lessons from inside the center’s planetarium and science museum outside where children can learn in a fun way outdoors. The intent of this innovative playground is to foster children’s learning in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in a wheelchair accessible environment.

Water and sand will trickle around in a designated play area designed for archeology, to give children the opportunity to dig for bones and to experience a new facet of science. Garden beds will bloom through summer to foster learning about the positives of the local flora and fauna, such as the necessity of pollination, while also providing an interactive lesson about climate change.

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Gerulskis said the playground will be a positive space providing a chance for kids to play while simultaneously learning.

“Right now kids are spending less time outdoors than they are in any recorded history. If we want them to care about nature, it’s really important to get them outside, away from screens,” said Gerulskis.

The playground is open for use with no additional charge after a general admission ticket is purchased to visit the center.

Crews got to work building the playground last month and installed the space-shuttle-inspired slide in early June. Over the course of the fall and winter, the center plans to partner with area high school and college students on the design and construction of additional STEM Stations to keep the Science Playground constantly evolving.

“We’re really looking forward to making the playground better every year, so it’s really a fun project for us,” said Gerulskis.

The McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center is in dedication and remembrance of Christa McAuliffe and Alan Shepard, New Hampshire trailblazers of space exploration. The Discovery Center honors McAuliffe, who died in the Challenger space shuttle accident in 1986. The center is also dedicated to Shepard, the first American to travel into space in 1971.