Space training nonprofit plans simulation center in Reston

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Reston-based nonprofit Interstellar Dreams has announced plans to build a new “space center” in Northern Virginia by 2023, with the goal of offering training and space flight simulation to prepare the region’s STEM-minded young people for possible careers in the commercial space flight industry.

Interstellar Dreams is an arm of the Pearl Project Institute for Innovation in STEM Literacy and offers online learning in astronomy. But now, the nonprofit is aiming to take some of that learning into the physical – or simulated reality – realm with its Reston center.

“Building a Space Center is a needed tool to help inspire, educate, and train emerging and current workers – that are reflective of our whole population – to ensure we are ready to explore the universe,” Robin McDougal, Interstellar Dreams’ CEO, said in a press release. “We plan to start here in Northern Virginia where this industry is booming.”

According to the release, the organization is also planning a “smaller prototype” on Sept. 10 at George Mason University’s College of Science Research Hall in Fairfax.

With the announcement also came a fundraising ask. The organization is hoping to raise $5 million to help support the center, which will operate through donations, sponsorships and memberships.

McDougal, a former Fairfax County Public Schools teacher, also leads the Pearl Project.

“We are looking for stars to get us to the stars,” she said.

According to the release, the plans for the center include different “habitats” with floor-to-ceiling LED screens and other equipment that will help to simulate space problem-solving and other exercises.

“Mission Commanders will lead … groups in various exercises and simulations. Video showing on all the walls provides a surreal experience of being in the actual environment,” the release states.

On Monday, Interstellar Dreams also served as a “launch partner” for NASA’s Artemis I. The launch of the rocket and unmanned Orion spacecraft that will orbit the moon – an early step in NASA’s return to moon exploration – was scrubbed Monday morning for mechanical issues. Interstellar Dreams’ planned viewing event at Google’s Reston headquarters Monday morning also served as a backdrop for its announcement, which featured speakers from Google, Northrop Grumman, Mason and more.

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