The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis has landed retired astronaut David Wolf as its first “Extraordinary Scientist-in-Residence,” calling on the native Hoosier to help develop programs sparking kids’ interest in science, technology, engineering and math.
Purdue University signed on as a partner, agreeing to lend its renowned space and engineering expertise to the three-year effort.
Wolf, a Purdue graduate, was set to join university President Mitch Daniels and museum CEO Jeffrey H. Patchen at a Thursday morning news conference launching the collaboration.
“It’s time to bring my rich experiences back to Indiana,” he told IBJ. “This is an incredible opportunity to have access to and an impact on families.”
Patchen praised the astronaut’s professional accomplishments—he’s a medical doctor, research scientist, electrical engineer and prolific inventor who spent 168 days in space—along with what he called Wolf’s charming, down-to-earth demeanor.
“He’s at ease with world-class researchers and third-graders,” Patchen said. “He can take his experience and expertise and make science come alive.”
Museum staff will collaborate with Purdue experts and Wolf to develop permanent and temporary exhibits that tie the thrill of space travel to STEM education. Guests will be able to try hands-on activities modeled after experiments conducted on the International Space Station, for example, and explore the impact of zero gravity.
Wolf will maintain a “continuous presence” at the museum, Patchen said, interacting regularly with visitors and museum supporters.
Patchen declined to divulge the expected cost of the program, but acknowledged a fundraising campaign is under way. Local apartment-community mogul Irwin Rose’s family made an undisclosed lead gift to bring Wolf on board.
A new exhibit likely would be located on the museum’s bottom floor, near the planetarium. That’s where the space suit Wolf wore to the Russian Space Station Mir already is on display as part of the NASA-funded Flight Adventures experience.
Wolf, 56, grew up in Indianapolis and graduated from North Central High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Purdue, then got his medical degree at Indiana University.
Wolf helped develop the International Space Station’s medical facility, and was selected as an astronaut in 1990. He made his first trip into space three years later on the shuttle Columbia.