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Bloomington soon may become home to a full-size mock-up of a space shuttle as part of the Upper Midwest's first Challenger Learning Center, a STEM-centric education center with space-themed simulations.

The City Council has approved up to $15,000 to support a feasibility study for a proposed education facility, called the Center for Inspiration, that would house a Challenger Learning Center as well as the Inspiration shuttle.

The Inspiration is a plastic-and-wood prototype built in the early 1970s to promote the shuttle program. Unlike retired existing shuttles that were actually flown in space, the Inspiration hasn't been committed to a museum.

The Challenger Learning Center of Minnesota, the nonprofit behind the vision, is exploring partnerships and will need to privately raise much of the $75,000 needed for the feasibility study.

About 40 Challenger centers around the world offer students hands-on opportunities to explore space travel, including NASA-style simulated missions. The closest one to the Twin Cities is in Woodstock, Ill., near Chicago.

The Minnesota group has been pushing to bring a permanent center here since January 2016. John Pederson, CEO of LVX System, which owns the Inspiration, has expressed interest in that goal because he grew up in Minnesota.

"The vision just came together as we thought about what we could do with these two incredible components to create something powerful for the youth in Minnesota," said Kasey Herzberg, executive director of the Challenger Learning Center of Minnesota group.

The Inspiration currently sits on the tarmac at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. If the Center for Inspiration is built, the shuttle would travel to its new home on a barge up the Mississippi River.

The study will look at other elements that might be included in the project. It also will look at a possible location in Bloomington's South Loop, the urban district that includes the Mall of America.

"This fits into our South Loop [2013] district plan that says we want to go after a number of projects there," said Schane Rudlang, Bloomington Port Authority administrator.

Herzberg hopes to have the feasibility study started in early 2020, with construction beginning in 2021 and a grand opening in 2023.

"This is very exciting, but it's still very much in the discovery phase," she said. "The Challenger Learning Center of Minnesota is excited to be exploring this unique vision."

Mara Klecker • 612-673-4440