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The Center for Aerospace Education (CAE) was founded by Joseph Ciotti in 1985 as a result of his role in NASA’s Teacher-in-Space Project while teaching at St. Louis High School in Honolulu. As a Hawaii Teacher-in-Space finalist, he was one of 114 candidates selected (two per state, territory and department) from among 11,000 applicants. In June 1985, these Teacher-in-Space finalists gathered together in Washington, DC to participate in a week-long conference that ultimately resulted in the selection of Christa McAuliffe for the upcoming flight of the Space Shuttle Challenger (STS-51L) in January 1986. Barbara Morgan was chosen as her backup.

The CAE was established in the summer prior to the Challenger’s launch to inspire students to engage in active learning by modeling the pioneering spirit of human space flight—with its passion for exploration and discovery. The CAE was also designed to support teachers and parents through its educational resource facilities and workshop opportunities … and, in doing so, to foster the Teacher-in-Space motto: I touch the future. I teach.

The CAE facilities and activities are purposefully designed to encourage students to accept challenges, take risks, explore unfamiliar settings, and revel in self-discovery. With a hands-on, informal and playful approach to learning, students experience a deeper level of engagement that's often missing from formal education or virtual reality. In the words of Albert Einstein, “Play is the highest form of research.” The CAE's goal is to make the two indistinguishable.

The CAE’s approach to learning springs from the belief that a teacher’s role is to help expand the horizons of students—to stretch their experiences just beyond their comfort zone. Teachers blow oxygen on the embers of curiosity innately glowing within every child. This formative role is concisely captured by the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire. The poem has no title, but could well be named The Nest. Loosely translated, his poem reads:


"Come to the edge," he said.
"No, we're afraid!" they fretted.
"Come to the edge," he repeated.
"We can't. We’ll fall!" they trembled.
"Come to the edge," he beckoned.
And so they came.
He pushed them
... and they flew!


Every classroom is in this way a nest. Teachers are called upon to inspire confidence in students to take risks and move beyond their comfort zone. This lesson was even more crucial to practice following the tragic explosion of Challenger and the loss of her crew of seven on January 28, 1986.

As then President Ronald Reagan eulogized: "The future does not belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives … We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and 'slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.'"

Historic Milestones for the CAE 

1.  The Center for Aerospace Education—originally named the Center in Hawaii for AeroSpace Education (CHASE)—was established in Fall 1985 at St. Louis High School in Honolulu, Hawaii. During its initial years of operation, the CAE’s educational services focused on K-12 outreach presentations in classrooms across the islands. CHASE was officially registered in the State of Hawaii on 20 Oct 1986.

2. A vision/business plan for CHASE was first presented to the St. Louis High School Board of Directors in early 1987. This plan consisted of 5 phases, projected to take 25 years for completion. It consisted of various facilities, including a hands-on "exploratorium", a planetarium, an observatory and various other aerospace science learning venues such an experimental rocketry lab.

3.  In Fall of 1987, CHASE relocated to Windward Community College in Kāne‘ohe and rename the Center for Aerospace Education (CAE).  With the assistance of then WCC Dean (and Acting Provost) Hiroshi Kato, an off-campus location for the CAE's first resource facility was secured at a nearby DOE school in Kāne‘ohe. By the Spring of 1988, renovations were begun to convert a classroom at Pu'ohala Elementary School into a low-tech, hands-on science exploratorium called the Aerospace Exploration Lab (AEL).

4.On February 27, 1989, the Aerospace Exploration Lab officially opened to the public at Pu'ohala Elementary School’s Room A-10.

5. On March 16, 1990, the CAE’s full vision plan was presented to the UH Board of Regents.

6. In Fall 1990, the AEL moved to an abandoned cafeteria on the WCC campus, when Pu'ohala Elementary School reclaimed Room A-10 to establish its Hawaiian Immersion Program—the second such Hawaiian Immersion site on O'ahu.

7.  In 1992, a NASA Space Grant component was added to the CAE when WCC joined the Hawai‘i Space Grant Consortium (HSGC).
8.  In Spring 1995, Director Joseph Ciotti conducted a campaign to secure funds from the Hawaii State Legislature to construct the CAE’s planetarium.  This campaign eventually resulted in the appropriation of $3.5 million. A second presentation on the CAE was later conducted in March 1996 to the UH Board of Regents.

9.  In the Summer of 1997, the Aerospace Exploration Lab moved to its permanent location in the college’s newly opened Science Building (Hale 'Imiloa).  The CAE’s phase one observatory, named Lanihuli Iki, was simultaneously built and opened. This small observatory, which supports the antenna for the CAE's NOAA weather satellite tracking earth station, continues to serve as an ancillary observatory to the main Lanihuli Observatory, which opened several years later. The NOAA meshed dish antenna, which is also capable of monitoring solar radio radiation, served as the first radio telescope for the CAE.

10. Construction of Hale Hōkūlani, which houses the Imaginarium, began in 1999. The planetarium has a 40-foot dome and originally 66 undirectional seats (plus 4 handicap reserved areas).

11. In Fall 1999, a temporary dipole antenna for the Radio JOVE telescope was installed at Lanihuli Iki.

12. During the summer of 2000, the Hōkūlani Imaginarium projector and special effects system were installed. The equipment included an Evans & Sutherland DigiStar II calligraphic projector and an extensive bank of Sky-Skan units, including several special effects projectors, a 5.1 surround-sound system and cove lights.

13. On June 15, 2000 thirty teachers from the Institute for Astronomy's TOPS (Toward Other Planetary Systems) program visited as the Imaginarium's first audience to see the Sky-Skan special effects projectors in action.

14. On June 17, 2000 the Hōkūlani Imaginarium projector system was turned power on for the first time.

15.  In Fall 2000, a log-periodic antenna replaced the dipole antenna for the Radio JOVE telescope. This radio telescope operates through an on-going partnership with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. This facility serves as a site for NASA’s Radio Jove program, which streams radio astronomy observations via the internet to schools and organizations around the world.

16.  On October 12, 2001, the CAE’s Hōkūlani Imaginarium was officially dedicated (pdf).  The first fulldome show was Cosmic Connections.

17. On October 11, 2002, the CAE opened its NASA Flight Training Aerospace Education Laboratory through a $250,000 grant from NASA Glenn Research Center. Included in this facility are a flight simulator, wind tunnel and zero-g drop tower. Since then, the services of this lab have expanded to include a STEM center for HSGC students involved in research fellowships and the headquarters for UHCC Project Imua. This CAE facility is known as the NASA Flight and Rocketry Lab.

18. During the Summer of 2005, WCC began construction of the Lanihuli Observatory.  This $850,000 facility initially housed the control stations for the CAE’s log-periodic Radio JOVE telescope and NOAA weather satellite tracking station. In Fall 2006, a Cosmic Ray-Muon Detector telescope, which is part of QuarkNet, was installed in Lanihuli.

19. In September 2006, the solar telescope, which was custom-made by ObservatoryScope, was installed on the roof of Lanihuli Observatory.

20. Lanihuli Observatory's 16.5 foot diameter aluminum AshDome was installed on June 25, 2007. Soon after, a Meade 16-inch optical telescope was installed on the observing platform. Lanihuli Observatory's dedication (pdf) took place on Oct 12, 2007.

21. By Fall 2007, all the major facilities proposed in the CAE’s original vision plan of 1987 were established—approximately 5 years ahead of its initially projected 25-year schedule.

22. Between September and October 2010, the Imaginarium's projector system underwent a major upgrade when a fulldome Sky-Skan Definiti 4K DigitalSky 2 and two JVC DLA-SH7 projectors with 8 video channels replaced the original system. Funding of $694,500 was awarded through a Title 3 grant. An ancillary JVC DLA-RS2 projector is mounted in the cove to independently project images with PowerPoint and other external systems.

23. The Imaginarium re-opened on Oct 4, 2010 with a Sky-Skan demo for the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) national conference. This as followed by
            • Grand Re-Opening:  Oct 15, 2010  Tales of the Maya Skies
            • First General Public:  Oct 17, 2010  Tales of the Maya Skies
            • First Family Show:     Oct 22, 2010  Earth, Moon & Sun

24. The Imaginarium underwent a series of related upgrades between August 2012 and February 2014. This included the demolition of its original central projector pit, which originally housed the E&S DigiStar II system. This was followed by the installation of a new carpet and 18 additional seats, which increased the seating capacity of the theater to 84 (plus 4 handicap reserved areas).

25. Project Imua was established in Fall 2014 under a $500,000 NASA grant.  Project Imua (to move forward in Hawaiian) is a joint UHCC faculty-student enterprise for designing, fabricating and testing small payloads that will be launched by the Hawaii Space Flight Lab (HSFL) and other launch systems. This partnership consists of several campuses within the University of Hawaii Community College (UHCC) system. WCC is the lead campus with Joseph Ciotti serving as the Director of Project Imua.  Project Imua is supported by the main Space Grant campus at the University of Hawaii—Manoa, which provides technical assistance through HSFL’s resources and personnel. To date, Project Imua has had three of its payloads launched on a sub-orbital flight from NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. It is currently developing its fourth payload for a launch in summer 2022.

26. The Armillary Sundial, which was commissioned in Dec 2012 and completed in March 2013, was installed on its permanent plinth on the Imaginarium lawn and dedicated on Dec 27, 2014. This sundial was designed and donated by Joseph Ciotti and crafted by Brad Dillon of Charlestown Sundials in Ladock, England.

27. On August 6, 2015, the Imaginaium hosted a special showing of Cosmic Rays for the IAU 2015 General Assembly. Rayos Cósmicos was produced by the Planetario Malargüe in conjunction with the Pierre Auger Observatory in Argentina.

28. In June 2022, the Imaginarium underwent a second major upgrade funded by a $600,000 Title 3 grant. The Sky-Skan/ JVC DLA-SH7 projector system was replaced by two JVC DLA-VS4010 laser phosphor projectors and a SSIA-designed computer control system with 4 video chanels operating Sky-Skan's DigitalSky 2 and Dark Matter software. New audio and cove lighting systems were also installed.